The Good Samaritan is one of the most beloved Bible stories by young and old alike. But are we willing to take hold of its message?
Jesus tells the story, which can be found only in the Gospel of Luke (10:29–37), about a Jew who is walking alone on the long, hot trek from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is attacked by robbers who strip and beat him, leaving the man for dead. A priest and then a Levite happen to walk by on their way to Jerusalem, see him, but pass by without helping. A Samaritan comes along who stops to help the abandoned, dying man, carrying him to a nearby inn where he can be cared for. The Samaritan then pays for his room and board.
In order to grasp the full impact of this parable, we must understand the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.
Samaritans were not simply outcasts; they were despised enemies of the Jews. In the chapter before the parable (Luke 9:51–56) we are told that the Samaritans refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. James and John were ready to retaliate: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). John 4:9 reads, “Jews will not have anything to do with Samaritans.” The Jewish historian Josephus reported that Samaritans killed “a great many” Galilean pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem (Antiquities 20.118–136).
First-century Jews hearing Jesus tell this parable would think: There is no such thing as a “good Samaritan.” His listeners would have expected a Jew to be the hero of Jesus’ story. The priest and Levite passed by, surely in good story-telling fashion, the third person would be the star of the show, an Israeli coming to rescue the poor traveler left to die on the road, most likely by “those wicked Samaritans.”
But the parable shocks them when the hero is not Jewish, nor Israeli, but a reviled Samaritan, the very ones first century Jews would have assumed to be the villains.
The story offers one of Scripture’s greatest challenges, and a vision that is as relevant today as it was to those who first heard it from the lips of their Messiah. It challenges us to consider that those we perceive to be our worst enemies might prove to be unexpected friends, our “neighbor to be loved,” as Jesus says. That’s because compassion has no boundaries.
We are also warned that prejudice against people on the basis of their religion, ethnicity or the color of their skin might leave us alone and abandoned, dying along the path toward our Jerusalem.