Luke 10: 25 – 37 The parable of the good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
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 neighbour as yourself.” ‘
‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the inn-keeper. “Look after him,” he said “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
* * *
There were all sorts of reasons why the priest and the Levite might not have stopped to help the man who had been attacked.
They were almost certainly frightened. The road was notoriously dangerous and they were alone. The road had a reputation for robbers, and here was the evidence. Why, they could still be hiding in the rocks above, waiting for another victim!
There may have been an element of mistrust. They may have thought that the man was feigning injury, as a tactic to delay the traveller, giving time for the robbers to ambush him.
And what if he was dead, or died while they were helping him? They would be ritually unclean for seven days.
Now the Jews hated Samaritans. Their religion was very similar to Judaism, but based around a temple on Mt Gerizim. During the first century, Jews and Samaritans were constantly feuding; lives were lost on both sides. If you were a Jew, you wouldn’t pick a Samaritan as the hero of your story.
Except that Jesus did.
Jesus makes the parable as sharp as possible. For the expert in the law, priests and Levites were virtuous almost by definition. They were men with a vocation to serve God. They were men who had studied and understood their faith. They were men like the expert on the law himself; and we have already seen from his reply to Jesus that he knew what his faith taught as the way to gain eternal life.
Yet with the parable presented as it is, the expert is forced to choose the Samaritan as the example to copy.
Perhaps the priest was a man whose sense of vocation to a high calling blinded him to the urgent needs of the world.
Perhaps the Levite was a man who couldn’t see the moral imperative to help an injured man because of the blinkers of human convention.
How understandable. How human. How forgivable.
And yet, here they are, held up to us as a warning – almost an eternal ‘naming and shaming’. Our sins of omission have consequences not just for those around us, but for us too.
The expert in the law swallows his pride and resentment and answers correctly, and Jesus says, ‘Go and do likewise.’
What is the lesson here? It is that our response to human need is what marks out the genuine worshipper of God.
But this parable is very rich, and there’s more we can learn.
Consider the innkeeper, who is often a forgotten character. When he left, the Samaritan paid some money to the innkeeper, not just for the care already given to the injured man, but for care into the future. And with it, he gave a promise that if the bill came to more than he had left, he would settle it on his return. It’s clear that we are meant to understand that the innkeeper was prepared to accept this – an open-ended commitment to take care of the victim. And that says two things. Firstly, the innkeeper was trusting, he had faith, and because of that he was prepared to take on a task that he probably wouldn’t otherwise have tackled. And secondly, the Samaritan was trustworthy; his words, actions and demeanour had convinced the innkeeper that any debt would be honoured.
Jesus himself is often regarded as the Good Samaritan; and we can all play the part of the innkeeper. By trusting in Jesus we are empowered to do good, that is to say, we can do something to heal the hurts of those around us.
We don’t need to feel a vocation; that can even get in the way, as it did for the priest.
We don’t need book-learning and consecration like the Levite; again, that may sometimes be an obstacle.
All we need is trust in Jesus, and the willingness to care for those who come to us in our normal, everyday, humdrum lives.
And there’s still more in this parable for us.
Why was the Samaritan so effective as a contrast to the priest and Levite? It was because he was part of a despised minority.
Does this parable have anything to say to us about racism?
Martin Luther King evidently thought so. Listen to what he said:
“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.”
Thank you for Jesus’ teaching, and thank you especially for this parable. Please help me to put it into practice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen