I’ve decided to start a weekly look at scripture, or bible study here at the blog. For the next five weeks I’d like to take a look at one of the most recognized parables of Jesus. The parable of the good samaritan.
Jesus tells the parable in Luke 10:25-37. Here is a brief rundown:
A religious lawyer comes to Jesus and asks what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies by asking the teacher what the scriptures say. He replies that with the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind (in other words make God number one) and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus agrees and says go and do this, and you will have eternal life.
Then the lawyer, wanting to justify himself asks, “who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then gives the parable. There is a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he is attacked by robbers who strip him, beat him and leave him for dead on the side of the road. Now a priest goes by and sees him. But passes by. Then a Levite comes by and also passes by. But then a Samaritan passes by. He is moved with pity. He goes to him, dresses and bandages his wounds, puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn and takes care of him. Then when he leaves the inn he pays the inn keeper to take care of the man, and promises to pay whatever it costs the inn keeper to help him when he returns.
Jesus then asks – which man was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers.
The lawyer gives the obvious answer that it is the one who showed mercy. Jesus then says go and do likewise.
Now here is the typical lesson that people take from this. They take it that we should all go and be a “good Samaritan”. In other words, the message is go and take care of the wounded, downtrodden etc. I think that is an ok reading of this scripture. We are called to help others, especially those who are disadvantaged in some way. I think that is in line with what God teaches us all over the scripture.
However I think this story is far richer than that. And I’m not sure that is all or maybe even most of what Jesus was doing here.
Let’s back up. First of all, let’s understand that the lawyer was trying to justify himself. He was a Jew and a very good one. He understands the law and tries to follow it. Also we need to understand that the Samaritans were seen as traitors by the Jews. First the people of the northern Israel (the Samaritans) stopped worshipping in Jerusalem and set up their own idols. Then during the Assyrian occupation the Samaritans intermarried with the Assyrians. So the Jews in Jesus days saw the Samaritans as half breed idol worshipers. They were detested.
When the lawyer asks the question about who is his neighbor he is thinking the only people who count are the Jewish people.
Jesus basically says to the lawyer, “Let’s say that you, a Jew (this is assumed), are on your way down the road and are attacked, robbed, stripped and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite (who you want as your neighbor and want to love) pass by without helping you. But a Samaritan who you despise stops and helps you. Now which of these is your neighbor who you ought to love?”
Jesus picks the last person this lawyer wants to love as the person who loves him.
My point here is that the message is not, “go be a good Samaritan.” It is I believe to say that everyone is your neighbor – even the people you are against.
What I’m trying to get at is that as we think about this story we need to get out of our head the idea that we are the Samaritan. No; we are in the ditch. And just like we would take help from anyone in that situation we are called to love anyone and everyone, even those we despise.
Jesus is telling us here to love the low, the ugly, the one we disagree with. He’s calling us to love the one who is not like us. And so this leads to two questions.
First; who do you despise? What group? The Democrats? The Republicans? Your leaders? The poor? The one percent? The muslim? The evangelical? The homosexual? The pro life person? The pro choice one? The CEO? The socialist? The bully? The boomers? The Millennials? Your parents? Your rival?
I’ll bet you don’t read this and think, I want to be the “Good Democrat or Good Republican”. But that is basically what Jesus said to this lawyer.
The second question which is actually harder is this: What does it look like to love this person or group. What does it look like to love your enemy? That is not simple at all and I’ll say more about that another time. But the question stands.
But understand this: When Jesus is talking to you, you are not the Samaritan.