The Good Samaritan

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But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29

The Good Samaritan
A picture showing the Samaritan help the man in need.
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SERMONS, ESSAYS AND OPINIONS
CONTENTS

The Good Samaritan is a famous New Testament parable appearing only in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37). The parable is told by Jesus to illustrate that compassion should be for all people, and that fulfilling the spirit of the Law is just as important as fulfilling the letter of the Law. In the story, Jesus describes how a Samaritan, who at the time, was a despised foreigner in the eyes of the Jews, shows himself to be the neighbour by helping out a Jew who was in great need.

Setting

The incident begins when a religious scholar of the Law tests Jesus by asking him what is necessary to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks the lawyer what the Mosaic Law says about it. When the lawyer quotes the scripture, saying "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and all your mind (Deuteronomy 6:5), and the parallel law of "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), Jesus says that he has answered correctly — "Do this and you will live," he tells him.

But the lawyer then asks Jesus to tell him who his neighbour is, and Jesus responds with a parable about a man who was attacked and robbed and left to die by the side of a road. Later, a priest saw the stricken figure and avoided him, presumably in order to maintain ritual purity. Similarly, a Levite saw the man and ignored him as well. Then a Samaritan passed by, and, despite the mutual antipathy between Samaritans and the Jewish population, he immediately rendered assistance by giving him first aid and taking him to an inn to recover while promising to cover the expenses. He gives the innkeeper two denarii, silver coins equal to an entire days wages for an average laborer.

Interpretations

At the conclusion of the story, Jesus asks the lawyer, of the three passers-by, who was the stricken man's neighbour? The lawyer responds, "The one who helped him." Jesus responds with "Go and do the same." So a "neighbour" is anyone who needs your love and help. Jesus has turned the attention away from the question "To whom do I owe an obligation?" and to the question, "To whom do I feel compassion?" Jesus is pointing out the nature, or subject, of love, not the object of it.

This parable is one of the most famous from the New Testament and its influence is such that to be called a Samaritan in Western culture today is to be described as a generous person who is ready to provide aid to people in distress without hesitation. In many English-speaking countries, a Good Samaritan law exists to protect from liability those who choose to aid people who are seriously ill or injured.

It is important to note that Samaritans were despised by the story's target audience, the Jews. The Samaritans were also largely taught by their interpretation of history to hate Jews. Thus the parable, as told originally, had a significant theme of non-discrimination and interracial harmony.

While this parable is known for its social implications, it also presents a very important spiritual message. During his ministry Jesus was often accused of associating with the publicans and sinners by the Scribes and Pharisees (Luke 5:30). In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reaffirms his reasons for doing so, which are also reported in Luke 5:31,32. The stricken figure in the parable represents all those who are spiritually sick, such as the gentiles and the sinners.

Text - Luke 10:25-37

Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"

He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live."

But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion,

came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.'

Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?"

He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

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