Summary: In this my adaption of a sermon by Eric Carey-Holt, I have focused on what I believe to have been the Lord’s original intent in His parable of the “Good Samaritan”, addressing the problem of racial discrimination, and socio-economic, gender, and religious prejudice.
One researcher found in a survey that 49% of the people interviewed said they would be able to tell the story of the Good Samaritan if asked to do so, 45% said they would not be able to, and 6% were unsure whether they could tell it or not. Among those who attend Christian religious services every week, the proportion of those who thought they could tell the story rose to 69% percent. But regardless of whether or not people can accurately retell this parable, the underlying concept of "the Good Samaritan" seems to be at least somewhat familiar to almost everyone, at least here in the U.S.A.
We name hospitals, churches, and charitable institutions in honor of the “Good Samaritan”. Most people know a “Good Samaritan” when they see one. There are so very many examples of Good Samaritans, Mother Teresa, for example, or Albert Schweitzer, or the fire brigade, or the anonymous person who simply stops to help change a flat tire or who helps a blind person cross the street. We have all met one, or have heard of one, even if we can’t relate the full details of the story.
In the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37, we are introduced to an expert in the law who poses a question to Jesus as a "test". "Teacher”, he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers this question with one of His own. "What is written in the law?"
The expert in the law answers, "You shall 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, your neighbor as yourself." Good answer. Jesus agrees with the man. But the expert in the law wishes to justify himself, so he asks another question, "And who is my neighbor?" In other words, "OK, Jesus, I understand that I am supposed to CARE, but surely there are the limits to that responsibility? Who can I exclude? When can I quit?" At this point Jesus tells His famous story.
The first person to whom we are introduced in the story of the Good Samaritan is an unfortunate traveler. This man had taken the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was notoriously dangerous. It descended nearly 3,300 feet in 17 miles, running through narrow passes at several points. The terrain offered easy hiding for bandits who terrorized the travelers on this road. Incidentally, I’ve been there, seen the terrain, and wouldn’t have wanted to travel through that area on foot, horse, camel or donkey. But this traveler made the journey, and, as he did so, was attacked, brutally beaten, stripped, and left for dead.
Jesus’ audience that day as He told this story knew how easily something like this could happen, and I suspect that we ourselves might understand how easily something like this might happen. People are still today mugged, beaten and robbed in our cities, on our streets. This problem isn’t unique to Jesus’ time, nor to the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Now back to the story: Suddenly who should come along but a clergyman! Wow, how fortunate! If anyone would help, surely it would be a religious person! But the priest does not come over to help; he simply looks the other way and passes by on the other side of the path. No reason is given. Perhaps he was afraid. Those who beat the man and left the poor man on the side of the road might be lying in wait to beat him as well. Or perhaps the priest simply didn’t want to get involved. What if the man were dead? In those days if a priest found a body while traveling he was expected to bury it, and that would have been a lot work.
Next there came a Levite. A “Levite” is sort of an "assistant priest”. He too saw the poor wretched man but simply passed by to the side of the path. He too is not exactly the hero type!
Enter possible hero number three - a Samaritan, the “GOOD” Samaritan in fact! Now, surprisingly, nowhere in the Bible will we find the words “Good” and “Samaritan” next to each other. For the “expert in the law” and the other Judeans to whom Jesus was telling this story, the concept of a “good” Samaritan would have been a contradiction in terms. In Jesus’ time, Judean people were so prejudiced against Samaritans that it would have been unthinkable for them to have blurted out, “the only GOOD Samaritan is a DEAD Samaritan”, or whatever the equivalent sort of expression might have been in those days.
Why such depth of feeling? The hostility between Jews and Samaritans dated back hundreds of years. It went back to the time of the division of the nation into the northern and southern kingdoms - Samaria came to be identified with Israel in the north, while the people to whom Jesus was telling this parable traced their roots and heritage back to Judea, the southern kingdom. Following the northern kingdom’s defeat by Assyria in 722 BC, exiles from many nations settled in Samaria, creating something of a melting pot. No longer was Samaria purely Jewish. The many migrants coming to this land had created a “melting pot”.