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Jesus, the Good Samaritan

October 26, 2015

Jesus, the Good Samaritan

Arguably, the parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’s best-known story. It has all the classic elements of a great tale—tragedy, tension, a surprising twist and, most importantly, a happy ending.

It’s also difficult to overstate the effect this parable has had on western culture. In a sentence: this short story radically and permanently redefined the word “neighbor” to include even our most despised enemy. After the Good Samaritan, a neighbor can no longer be narrowly defined as someone living in close proximity. Before Jesus’ masterful redefinition the command to “love one’s neighbor” (Leviticus 19:8) just made good practical sense. Even the ancient pagans understood this. As the Greek poet Hesiod remarked, “Especially be cordial to your neighbor for if trouble comes at home a neighbor’s there.”[1] So before Jesus, to “love your neighbor” was really to “love your self”, since it was in your best interest to have good relationships with those who lived nearby.

The Good Samaritan changes all of this. There was no chance of reciprocity in what the Samaritan did for the helpless Jewish victim. Let’s think back to the story. A traveling (and presumably) Jewish man is ambushed by thieves, assaulted and left for dead. A Jewish priest and then a Jewish Levi both ignore the man and walk a wide path around the helpless victim. Now the unexpected turn in the story, a Samaritan, the long time enemy of the Jew, sees the wounded man and lavishly pours out his oil and wine upon the bleeding injuries of the stranger. Further, he places him on his own animal and tends to his wounds throughout the night at a nearby inn. Even more incredibly, the next morning the Samaritan prepays lodging for the man as he recovers and offers to pay for any future expenses the wounded man incurs during his recovery.

Ethical Application

Jesus’ piercing question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers”?, changed history. (Luke 10:36) To love my neighbor isn’t based on utility or reciprocity or self-interest; it’s based on the principle of unconditional love for our fellow man. It’s based on the idea that human beings should receive unconditional love from one another.

Why? Why should we love our enemies? Why did Jesus teach this? Our enemies certainly don’t deserve our love! There are two answers. First, imago dei (The image of God)—human beings were created in the image of God. The imprint of the Creator places immeasurable intrinsic value on humankind. This is why crimes against humanity are so heinous. Secondly, and more significantly, incarnation (God in the flesh)—God, in Jesus Christ, took on human flesh (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-8). As the classic Christmas hymn Oh Holy Night beautifully sings, when Jesus came, “the soul felt its worth.” God demonstrated His appraisal of our worth when He became flesh in order to save us.

Theological Application

And this brings us back to the Good Samaritan story. Where is Jesus in this story? Is there a “Christ figure” in this parable? Appropriately, he’s at the center. I think we should view Jesus as the Ultimate Good Samaritan. His rescuing love was lavished poured out upon us. We were the helpless, dying man wasting away in our sin and despair. Jesus, like the Samaritan, binds up our wounds and carries our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). However, unlike the Samaritan, rescuing us cost Jesus his very life. You see, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t simply teach us to love our neighbor; it doesn’t just teach us that our neighbor includes our enemy, it teaches even a grander lesson. It teaches us the lengths God will go to save us. It shows us our helplessness, the ruin sin has caused, and powerfully demonstrates the lavish, self-giving love of our Great God!

Pastoral/Personal Application

As a Jesus follower, I am called to follow in his steps (I Peter 2:23). I am called to be a “Good Samaritan”. Obviously, there is a unique way in which only Jesus can save the human race but that doesn’t mean there’s not a role for me to play. But how can I be a “Good Samaritan” today? I haven’t seen too many wounded strangers bleeding out on the side of the road lately. These things happen and certainly if we see that, I have a moral obligation to help. But in order to apply this story, I must expand our understanding of the wounded and hurting. If Jesus told the story today, he would likely address the cold indifference I show to those with silent struggles and messy addictions. Surely, he would address the non-verbal cues that I loudly shout when I’m too busy to get involved with someone’s struggle. The truth is the wide path I walk around difficult people mirror the indifference of the Jewish Priest and Levi in the story. I must ask God for His compassion and love to embrace my neighbor’s struggle and “bear his burden and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 6:2). God, in Christ Jesus, bore my burden; he carried my sorrow. I am called to do the same.

[1] As cited in Paul and the Gift, John M. G. Barclay p.25


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