The Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-3725 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This is a famous story, which in some respects has lost its shocking end because it is so familiar. In the third century AD, Origen of Alexandra in Egypt (184-253) thought the Samaritan story was an allegory and proposed the following:
The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The Priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the inn, which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. The manager of the inn is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And, the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Saviour's second coming.
This reading was universally accepted for centuries but it was John Calvin who made us rethink the story.
It is very easy to dramatise this text and one would benefit taking a role and getting a sense as to how the story unfolds. You could be the innkeeper coping with the nuisance of a wounded man, which would be a hindrance to his business with only the promises that the Samaritan would return. You could be the Priest or the Levite thinking of excuses as to why they passed by on the other side and did not help. The story says that the road was from Jerusalem to Jericho, suggesting they had already fulfilled their temple obligations.
Martin Luther King Jr really enjoyed this parable and visited the actual road where the action of the story took place. It was indeed notorious for its danger and difficulty and was known as the "Way of Blood" because of the blood that had been shed there. In his "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech, on the day before his death, he described the road as winding and meandering. If the Priest and the Levite looked over at the man, they would wonder if the robbers were still around or perhaps the man on the ground was merely faking, to lure them over. So, the first question the Priest would have asked is, "If I stop to help this man, what would happen to me?"
MLK goes on to say, "On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
MLK is saying we need to do more than just help the beggar by actually transforming the whole situation in which these robberies occur. So, we have to look at the social infrastructure that supports poverty and creates an underclass. This parable is far more than what it seems and challenges us far more deeply than just asking who is my neighbour.
The second book of Chronicles 28:15 would have been well-known to people of Jesus' time. In essence, the Northern Israelite Army based in Samaria invaded Judea and took many women and children, creating carnage. When the captured women and children were taken to Samaria, the prophet Obed confronted the army, saying that they were no better than their Judean enemies. The army in Samaria, therefore, reclothed, looked after and returned their prisoners to their homeland. Knowing this story puts Jesus' parable into context.
I was fascinated by the difference between the Jews and the Samaritans and why there was this hatred. The Samaritans descended from the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's sons, as well as from the Levites. The Samaritan religion centred on Mount Gerizim, which they considered to be the true place for God to be worshipped. In the book of Joshua 8:30-35 and Deuteronomy 7 and 8, we read about the importance of this mountain and how earlier on in the taking of Canaan, this mountain was so important a temple was built. The Jews, on the other hand, made Jerusalem their centre of worship.
In Ancient Hebrew, Samaritan means guardian, keeper or watcher of the Torah Law, but in Modern Hebrew, it just means inhabitants of Samaria. The Samaritans, who may well have numbered up to 1 million in population, believed it was on Mount Gerizim that Abraham offered Isaac to show his total obedience and, therefore, the reason for God's blessing. The Samaritans believe in one God and that the Torah was given by God to Moses but that Mount Gerizim is the sanctuary of Israel's God. They believe in resurrection and Paradise, that the dead will be raised by a restorer who will probably be Moses, but that post-Babylonian exile works, such as the Tanakh and Talmud, which is so authoritative to the Jews, have no authority. It is said there are 6000 differences between the Samaritan Pentateuch and that of the Masoretic Jews. Even the Ten Commandments have differences, for example, the tenth commandment for the Samaritans is that they keep the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.
The Samaritans believe their descendants come from North Israel, either before the Syrian conquest in 721 BC or are part of the repopulating of the area following Sargon II of Assyria deporting 27,290 inhabitants. The Samaritans, therefore, were confident in their God, believing their history went right back and that theirs was the true religion.
One can now understand why the Jews and the Samaritans were so different and yet could have been so similar.
Where are you in the story? With whom do you most resonate? Would you take help from an archenemy and forever be beholden to them? Is there any sympathy for the Priest and the Levite? Read yourself into the story and understand the characters and how they interplay. The lawyer was asking honest questions to which Jesus the Rabbi responded appropriately but the challenge He gives remains. Who is our neighbour? If it is the person who showed mercy, then how do we go and do likewise? Good questions that demand individual answers. Amen.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon