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JESUS' PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 19 May 2005

By Jim Jordal

And behold, a certain lawyer stood and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the law? How does it read to you?" And he answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.’

Luke 10:25-35 (NASB)

On this occasion Jesus was instructing His disciples and whoever else would listen concerning trials and turmoil they would face as His disciples. Overhearing the discussion, a lawyer (Jewish scribe who specialized in Mosaic Law) decided to test Jesus by asking "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by asking the lawyer (who should certainly know), "What is written in the law? How does it read to you?" The lawyer replied according to his understanding of the Old Testament with the statement: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

But Jesus knew that the lawyer considered only other "righteous" Jews to be his neighbors. Scribes and Pharisees of the day considered other people--less devout Jews and the hated Gentiles, especially Samaritans--as sinners to be shunned as enemies of God, based on Psalm 139:21-22. Jesus also realized that what the lawyer really wanted was to have his self-righteous, exclusive, unloving behavior accepted and justified. Had he known what Jesus would say, he certainly would not have asked his final question: "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, as He often did, in the form of a parable, or story using a familiar context to present certain basic truths. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho dropped 3300 feet over 17 miles of rocky, isolated terrain beset with thieves and danger. So it provided an understandable setting for a traveler to be assaulted, robbed, and left for dead.

The story also presented great contrast between the people coming upon the injured man along the road. The priest and Levite (religious lay worker who assisted priests in the temple) ignored the helpless man, even crossing to the other side of the road to bypass him (have you ever done that to a beggar or homeless person?). But the hated, supposedly apostate Samaritan, who should not even have dared to be on the road, not only noticed him, but had compassion enough to bind up his wounds, transport him to safety, and pay his expenses while he recovered.

Several truths leap from this parable. Perhaps the most prominent is that personal profession of religious faith does not guarantee compassion for the less fortunate of society. Most of us have groups that we exclude from our concern for various reasons. Currently, it appears that socioeconomic differences trump the classic racial and religious reasons for marginalizing and oppressing certain groups. But Jesus taught that it was human need that mattered, not how much money one had, or what tribe or group they came from.

Another major lesson is that pride, arrogance, and indifference separate us from God and from ourselves. God is more often found in the faces and suffering of society's misfits than in the pews of complacent suburban churches. There are perhaps 20 biblical references to the fact that God delights in our worship and sacrifices only to the extent that we become receptive and obedient to His word. He values obedience over sacrifice. In God's view, it would have been far better for the priest and Levite to have compassion on the fallen traveler than for them to offer worship to Him on the Sabbath.

Finally, we might look at the general posture of the religious establishment today regarding help for the poor and those treated unjustly in our society. We offer massive doses of charity to such groups, but little actual support. The passing Samaritan did more than just administer charity to the injured traveler--he also supported him in his future recovery. Here we often fall short: Charity can never make more than a minuscule difference in the vast problems of society. We also need direct support, and beyond that advocacy for justice and against the forces in society that contribute most directly to injustice, exploitation, and oppression. When we begin to act in this manner, we'll begin to make an important difference.

Last Updated ( Monday, 21 November 2005 )