29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
In this famous story, a priest and Levite, a temple assistant, passed by a man beaten by robbers, but a Samaritan stops to help; he bandages his wounds, brings him to an inn, takes care of him, and then leaves money with the innkeeper for his continuing care. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer: “The one who showed him compassion.” Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
We know this story very well. We have heard this story a lot. Medical ethic, law ethic, and study of social work have used this story of the Good Samaritan when they have a discussion about morality and compassion. There are Good Samaritan hospitals, Good Samaritan nursing homes, Good Samaritan mental therapy facility, Good Samaritan law firms, Good Samaritan society for social work, even Good Samaritan animal hospitals. Good Samaritan is really famous not only to us—believers—, but also to those who do not go to church. But I am not sure how many know or understand who the Samaritan was and why Jesus presented, of all persons, the Samaritan in this parable.
Therefore, I try to pay more attention to Israel’s historical background that related to the situation that Israel and Samaritan had in order to understand the hidden intention of why Jesus presented the Samaritan in this parable.
Why a Samaritan?
II. The lawyer asking about the eternal life
Jesus began to tell this parable because a certain lawyer (Scribe) who try to test Jesus asked “Who is our neighbor?” Then, Jesus told this parable to answer to that question.
Before this question, in Luke 10:25, this lawyer tested Jesus by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This lawyer might anticipate that Jesus answer would be something that broke their law, so he could accuse Jesus in a public place. Jesus didn’t directly answer the question, but asked him back like this: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
The questioner was a lawyer and Jesus knew that he was a Jewish lawyer, and thought that he must know. “What is written in the law about eternal life?” was kind of counterattack to him.
He was a lawyer who strongly believed that there are answers for all questions about human life in the law. Ironically enough, this lawyer answered his own question. It seems like he danced to Jesus’s tune.
A mother went to wake her son for church one Sunday morning.
When she knocked on his door, he said, “I’m not going!” “Why not?” asked his mother.
“I’ll give you two good reasons,” he said. “One, they don’t like me. Two, I don’t like them.”
His mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church.
One, you’re 47 years old. Two, you’re the pastor!”
He knew the answer why he had to go to the church: The most correct answer, but he tried to ignore the answers.
Luke 10:27 tells us the Scribe knows the answer. “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.” This commandment comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 which are in the Old Testament and the lawyer knew these laws.
III Who is our neighbor?
Jesus said three things to him.
First he said, “You have given the right answer;” second, “do this (loving God and loving neighbors),” “practice this in your life;” and third, “Then you will live in eternal life”
But the lawyer isn’t quite satisfied with Jesus’ answer. He needs the details and he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). The lawyer wants to inherit eternal life but wants to know perhaps the least he has to do. He’s asking, “Could you tell me who I really have to love and who I don’t have to work so hard to love?”
Because he thought that he had practiced this commandment, loving his neighbor, at least within the legal boundaries, he anticipated an answer from Jesus that was able to make him justified as a good neighbor.
There was a definition in their law about who can be a neighbor and who cannot. He believed that he had loved others at least within legal boundaries. But Jesus immediately began to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan here.
In 722 BC, Assyria invaded and destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel that contains Samaria. Then many Samaritans were taken captive and could not go back to their home land. Scholars have believed that 10 tribes were lost by this invasion. After Assyria’s invasion, Jews kicked Samaritans out from the Jewish boundary and defined them as sinners. According to the Jews, the Samaritans were not children of Israel at all; rather, they were either descendants of foreign colonists whom the Assyrians had brought into the land after the conquest in 722 BC or, at best, the offspring of Israelites who had forsaken their traditions and intermarried with the foreigners—gentiles. Jews thought that Samaritans threw out their origin, and broke their law. They were traitors and sinners to Jews.
Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught their people that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group. Ideally, Jews and Samaritans were not to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another. If Jews wanted to go to Galilee from Judea, they went around their elbow (detour) in order not to set foot in Samaria. They called each other a heresy. They really hated each other.
Think about how audiences reacted to this parable of the Good Samaritan. Audiences were Jews. (100% Jews) And imagine how the lawyer reacted to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The word Good Samaritan did not exist to Jews. They didn’t think that they could accept calling a Samaritan as a Good neighbor. No, they were “other” or “none.” Samaritans could never be good people to Jews.
After finishing his parable, Jesus looks at the lawyer and asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (10:36 NIV). And the lawyer responds, “The one who had mercy on him” (v. 37).
The lawyer cannot even respond by saying “the Samaritan.” The Samaritan is still so despised that the lawyer can only say, “The one who had mercy.”
Now, if so, we need to consider why Jesus mentioned a Samaritan in his teaching.
V. Two functions of this parable
This parable has two functions.
First is to indict the religious leaders; and second is to fulfill the law.
The parable of the Good Samaritan does not simply teach that we, like the Samaritan, should act as a good neighbor to those who need help. It also indicts the priest and Levite who passed by, ignored other’s difficulties, and didn’t care about those who needed help.
It asks us, “Why did they pass by?”
Jesus’ audience would have known the reason. The priest and Levite were obligated to avoid corpse impurity. Their loyalty to purity prevented them from acting compassionately. Their law ordered them to keep in purity by keeping away from impurity. This law should be applied even when their neighbors were in difficulty. To Jesus, it was neither about God’s commandment nor law of Moses. Jesus believed that God’s commandment was built based on the grace and power raising people from the dead, not pushing them down to the dead.
And the second function of the parable is to remind us that Jesus’ range of understanding of neighbor does not have a boundary. God’s grace makes a Samaritan as a Good Samaritan. He knew how God loves him and what God wants him to do for others. He knew that God’s grace has no boundary. God’s law that is written in Leviticus 19:18 never defined the boundary which reduces the meaning of neighbor or regulates conditions of being a neighbor or enemy.
Jesus fulfilled the law, loving God and loving neighbor, by God’s grace; and Jesus broke the boundary down and called a Samaritan as a Good neighbor. Jesus challenged his people to find God’s grace in their life and to transform their old thought that had made others evils or sinners.
Ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic, the Samaritan is the very opposite of the lawyer as well as the priest and the Levite. The story must have been a shocking one to its first audience, shattering their categories of who are and who are not the people of God, and who are the others or none in our society.
Who is your neighbor? Who are you to your neighbors? Who are we to our neighbors?
One of preachers of the United Methodist Church shares her writing on her blog.
This story means, "A Jewish man is robbed, and a Good Hamas member saves his life. A liberal Democrat is robbed, and a Good Conservative Republican saves his life. A white lady is robbed, and a black teenager saves her life. A black woman is robbed, and an Asian young man saves her life. An atheist is robbed, and a Good Christian fundamentalist saves his life. Everyone can be a Good Samaritan according to how they respond to God’s invitation of doing good."
Where are you in this parable of Jesus Christ? What do you have in you to do a good deed in the name of Jesus Christ? Are we hearing God’s call to be a Good neighbor and see others as our neighbor?