To understand the Good Samaritan story Jesus told, we have to go back some 700 years before Jesus’ time to the Assyrians. When these treacherous people vanquished a country, they took the best and brightest with them as captives and left the old and feeble behind (Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar learned a lot from the Assyrians). Those left in Samaria were Hebrews, but, in their decimated state, they intermarried with other nationalities and even abandoned certain facets of their Jewish tradition. For example, they didn’t think it was so important to worship in Jerusalem, but had their own worship center. Similarly, they ignored the prophetic and poetry books, and retained only the Torah.
Over time the Jews of the Holy Land began to look down upon the Samaritans as an inferior group of people. They didn’t consider them a part of their religion at all and they were very socially biased against them. So, it was truly bold and surprising for Jesus to make the hero of one of his parables a despised Samaritan.
You remember the framework of the story, I’m sure. A lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life. As was his custom, Jesus answered the question with another question: “What do you think, how do you read the scriptures on this issue?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, that’s right, and started to go on about his business.
But the lawyer was not satisfied. He asked, “But, who is my neighbor.”
That’s when Jesus told this totally amazing story. A man was walking through the ghetto on the road to Jericho when a gang came out, stabbed and beat him, and stole everything he had, including his clothing. He was left bleeding and dying. A priest came by, looked at the hurting man, and hurried on (maybe to a meeting on how to clean up the Jericho road.) Next, a Levite came by, looked at the bleeding victim, and went on by on the other side of the road, perhaps going to choir practice. Next, a despised Samaritan came by. He stopped, poured oil and wine into the man’s wounds, dressed them and placed him on his own donkey. He took him to an inn and paid for lodging, promising more on his return trip if needed. Then Jesus asked the lawyer who the neighbor was in that story, the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan. The lawyer apparently couldn’t even say the word “Samaritan” so he said, the one that did right.
Jesus simply replied, “Go and do likewise.”
So, with all of our flaws, and no matter what others may think of us, Christians are expected to go the extra mile in helping the hurting. Pouring in the oil and wine signifies offering the Holy Spirit and the blood of Jesus to anyone bleeding and dying (whether literally or figuratively). Putting someone on our own donkey signifies inconveniencing ourselves to help those in need. Paying someone’s bill at a hotel signifies providing shelter and protection for those who have lost the means to provide these things for themselves. Real good Samaritans don’t care about what others think; they care only about fulfilling what they know the Lord requires.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.