|Bible Story: A Good Samaritan
Based on Luke 10:30–37
Retold by Paul Katula
A lawyer asked Jesus, "In order to have eternal life, if I'm supposed to love my neighbor as myself, then who exactly is my neighbor?" The Lord answered with a parable:
A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and some robbers attacked him. They stripped him, beat him up, stole from him, and then ran away, just leaving him to die in the ditch at the side of the road.
First, a priest came upon the scene. When he saw the man lying on the road, almost dead, he passed right by, turning his head the other way to pretend he didn't notice the dying man.
Next, a Levite, one of the leaders in the man's community, came by. He acted just like the priest, walking by quickly so he could pretend he hadn't even seen the dying man.
And third, a man from Samaria came upon the scene. Samaria, which was part of the Northern Kingdom, was looked down upon by God's people in the Southern Kingdom. But this Samaritan stopped to help the dying man.
Helping Someone Who Needs Help
He put bandages on his wounds after he had disinfected them with his own wine and soothed them with some of his oil.
In other words, the Samaritan took pity on the man, which was really against every stereotype people had at the time about Samaritans. They would ordinarily be the last ones to stop to help someone from Jerusalem or Jericho.
The Samaritan used his own horse to take the man to a nearby inn, where he gave the innkeeper about two days' wages from his own money.
"Look after this man until he gets better," the Samaritan told the innkeeper. "If you spend any more than this taking care of him, I'll make up the difference on my way back through town," the Samaritan promised.
The Lord's Test
After Jesus had told the story, he asked the lawyer, "Which of these three men — the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan — do you think was a good neighbor to the man who fell victim to the criminals?"
"Surely it was the Samaritan who showed him mercy," the lawyer answered.
"That's right," Jesus said. "Now go on your way and do the same as this good Samaritan."
With this parable, Jesus further specifies what he means by "neighbor" in the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. It means "one who is merciful in a time of need." That is, you are merciful to a person when you comfort them and take care of them when they need it most.
The stereotypes about Samaritans arise from their heritage. They were considered "half-breeds," really. Back in 721 BC, the king of Assyria, Sargon, took thousands of Israelites from the Northern Kingdom (known as Samaria) to Assyria. He called them "prisoners of war" because Assyria was at war with the Israelites. This king then brought "prisoners of war" from other regions into Samaria, and these people eventually mixed with the Israelites who remained in Samaria. So, that is how the population of Samaria became mixed, not only in terms of their heritage, but these prisoners from other regions also had mixed religious beliefs. Because they had other laws besides the ones brought by Moses, the Israelites considered them outlaws, half-breeds, and a bunch of other bad stereotypes.
But despite the possibility that the Samaritan didn't know how he should behave under the law of loving your neighbor, he did it anyway: he acted according to the law in doing the right thing. On the other hand, the priest and Levite, who are supposedly very knowledgeable about the law in the Torah, did not practice what they preached.
Finally, why do you suppose the priest and Levite passed up the dying man? There is an answer, in scripture, which tells us that the priest was on his way to a ritual which made offerings to the Lord. Touching a dead man would make him ritually "unclean" so he didn't take a chance that the man might die in his arms. Likewise, the Levite is also more interested in protecting his image as a leader in the community. Both of these men acted based on legitimate reasons, but Jesus' commandment of love and mercy is obviously better. It was their belief that religious or civic leaders were "above the law" — as long as they followed the small portions of the law that pertained specifically to them — that they didn't have to help the dying man. On the contrary, the Samaritan, who was just acting based on the love in his heart and mercy toward his fellow human being, did what the law ultimately tells us to do anyway, which is loving our neighbor.
So, some believe this story is also about the "big picture" of the Lord's Great Commandment. Loving your neighbor comes in many different shapes and forms. You might be a priest or say you are a holy person, but if you don't practice what you preach (live according to what you believe), then you're no better than the priest and Levite in the good Samaritan parable. And that's not so good, when you remember that the parable tells us about how we can receive eternal life in heaven with our Lord.