So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What Is “The Good Samaritan”?
“The Good Samaritan” is a term that most people are familiar with although many are unaware of its origin. If you type in “Good Samaritan” in a Google search bar, you will find numerous results. There’s a “Good Samaritan Bible,” a “Good Samaritan Church,” a “Good Samaritan Medical Clinic,” a “Good Samaritan Hospital,” “Samaritan’s Purse” (an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization ), “Sisters of the Good Samaritan” (Good Sam’s Club), and even a “Good Samaritan Act.” The Good Samaritan Law in California falls under the health and safety code section 1799.102. This law states that when a person renders emergency care and acts in good faith, without expecting compensation, they won’t be held liable for their acts or omissions. But where did the term “The Good Samaritan” originate? The Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus in the Bible approximately 2000 years ago.
In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer (an expert in law) tested Jesus by asking Him the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Knowing he was a lawyer, Jesus returned by asking him “What is written in the law?” So he answered and said, “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.” After Jesus told him he was correct, Luke tells us that he wanted to justify himself so he asked a second question. “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered him with a parable and said
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed on the other side. Likewise, a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you. So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)
When you and I read this parable today, we might say to ourselves, “well it’s not so surprising that the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among thieves, because even today it happens all the time where an innocent person is walking down the street and gets jumped or mugged and left lying there.” But what about the two non-violent men who walked past this poor helpless half-dead man without offering help? What was their problem? Even in today’s society, someone walking by would have offered help. Did the men of Jesus’ time have no compassion for human life? Well, before we are quick to judge, we have to understand the situation at hand. Jesus specifically mentions that the two men who offered no help were a priest and a Levite. Priests and Levites both served in the Holy Temple and were under strict Jewish law. Touching a dead corpse would have rendered them spiritually unclean and unfit for Temple worship (Lev. 5:2-6). The fact that both men passed by on the other side of the wounded man could have been so they wouldn’t have to check to see if he was still alive. Also, Jesus stated in His parable that the direction the priest and Levite were traveling was downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho, possibly indicating that their temple duties had already been completed. Nevertheless, they each put their purity above doing what is morally right.
And then we finally have a third person who walks by and shows compassion for the wounded man. Jesus states that this person was a Samaritan. The lawyer that Jesus was speaking to was part of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Supreme Court), and the Jews hated the Samaritans to the point that they even destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, according to the Jewish historian Josephus. Maybe that’s why when Jesus asked him the question “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? The lawyer answered by stating “He who showed mercy on him,” instead of mentioning the word “Samaritan.” The Samaritans also hated the Jews and had even desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones ( Josephus Antiquities XVIII. 2, 2).
Considering the compassion that Jesus had for the weak and the outcast, it’s no surprise that Samaritans also appear in other parts of the New Testament. In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus heals the 10 lepers, only the Samaritan among them bothered to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). In John’s Gospel, a Samaritan woman meets her Messiah, as Jesus’s wise council resulted in many other Samaritans believing in Him (John 4:1-42). In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus’s instruction for the disciples not to preach in heathen or Samaritan cities, was only temporary for their mission at hand, only to be given the “great commission” to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), and be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) after His resurrection.
As Christians, we should never be like the priest or the Levite in this parable, but only identify ourselves with either the Samaritan who was willing to do what was morally right and help the needy, or to the robed and wounded man who accepts help from someone who owed him nothing. There is a verse that I really like from a hymn written by John Newton that goes like this;
How kind the good Samaritan, To him who fell among the thieves!
Thus Jesus pities fallen man, and heals the wounds the soul receives.
The lawyer showed Jesus that he was truly interested in eternal life, and most likely understood the message that Jesus was giving him through the parable. That placing a higher value on a set of religious rules and customs over doing what is morally right and saving a man from dying, will not get you into the kingdom of heaven. But there’s also a much deeper interpretation of this parable. With deeper study, we can always find more gold nuggets in the Scriptures. During my research on this topic, I found numerous different allegorical interpretations of “The Good Samaritan” by different people. For those who don’t know, an “Allegory” is a symbolic representation. And my favorite allegorical interpretation of “The Good Samaritan” came from an early Christian scholar from Alexandria Egypt by the name of Origen Adamantius. It’s truly amazing. It goes like this:
The man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho represents Adam. Jerusalem represents paradise. Jericho represents the world. The thieves represent hostile powers. The priest represents the law. The Levite represents the profits. The Samaritan represents Christ. The wounds represent disobedience. The Samaritans’ own animal represents the Lord’s body. The “Inn” represents the church, which excepts all who enter. The manager of the Inn represents the head of the church, and the Samaritans promise to return to the Inn represents our Savior’s second coming.
Wow, it takes a lot of thinking (brainpower) to put it all together, but not bad.
Now, on a more personal level.
When I meditate on the story of “The Good Samaritan,” a small battle takes place within me as my spirit wars against my flesh. One side gets angry at the two men who were selfish and heartless enough to pass by a dying man they could have saved. But the good spirit in me actually feels sorry for those two men for being spiritually lost and most likely on the road to eternal damnation. As for me, having the Holy Spirit living inside of me would have automatically caused my heart to help the poor wounded man and do just as the Samaritan did. The most valuable lesson that I got out of this story is that the man that lay dying on the side of the road didn’t have to do anything to receive the saving grace of the Samaritan. Hey, does that scenario sound familiar?
You and I were once lying on the side of the road dead in our trespasses and sins until Jesus extended His righteous right hand down to us, and gave us more grace and mercy than we deserve. Something we could never earn on our own, or repay. We only have to accept it. And now, as Christians, we are just like the Samaritan in this story, despised and rejected by the rest of the world. But, as the psalmist says;
I will exalt You oh Lord, for You have lifted me up, And have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to You, and You healed me. Oh Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:1-5).
So, as children of God, traveling down the road of life, let’s pick up where the Samaritan left off and extend a helping hand to anyone who’s suffering. Because the Bible tells us that “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25: 40). If we stay close to Jesus and His Word and continue to love people the way He does, then we will never have to hear: