The Good Samaritan
REVISITING THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
By Atty. Joshua Francisco J. Ablong, Manager, Human Resource Development
The passages from Luke 10:25-37 and John 10:10 talk about one of the most popular parables of Jesus Christ: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This story is so popular and familiar within the Christian community that right here in this sanctuary it is one of its central themes. If you may have noticed, right above the chancel we have a stained-glass image of Jesus showing him and his disciples while on the choir loft at the back, you can see there a stained-glass image of the Good Samaritan helping an injured man.
This story is so popular it has spawned many interpretations. Nowadays, the term “Good Samaritan” is commonly associated with people who care for the sick, or those who help the helpless. Some hospitals even bear the name “Good Samaritan” in an effort to demonstrate the extent to which they want to care for their patients. But there are others who interpret and see this in a different light. For instance, there are those who see this parable as a reminder against racial, religious or ethnic bias, while there are those who view it as a basis for social justice, even socialism.
But what is the Parable of the Good Samaritan really all about? What does it teach us? First, we must remember that when Jesus went around doing his ministry, he used parables or stories to make a point. He used them to put across a message or to teach some fundamental truth. More often, he used symbols and analogies to introduce certain teachings. In this case, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan, and he did so in answer to a question raised to him by a lawyer. In verse 25 of the text, it says:
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
You have to remember that the lawyer’s motive for asking the question was to test Jesus. In other words, he wanted to know what Jesus had to say, or even have a debate. During this time, Jesus was seen as a threat by the religious establishment, and from time to time a teacher or expert of the law would stand up and test him, and try to catch him off-guard, if only to find reasons to accuse him of some crime, or violation of Jewish law.
So going back, the lawyer stood up, and asked him a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Like you and me, the Jewish people believed in life after death and were very much concerned of what they should do to deserve it.)
So Jesus answered the question with a question. Jesus said: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” By answering the lawyer’s question with a counter-question, the tables were thus turned and the burden of giving the right answer shifted to the lawyer. The lawyer then replied:
“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.”
Jesus then said: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Here, one will notice that not only did Jesus shift the burden of giving the right answer to the lawyer, Jesus ended up by challenging the lawyer to do exactly what he just said! Thus, wanting to justify himself, the lawyer followed it up with another question. He asked: “And who is my neighbor?” By giving this follow-up question, the lawyer actually wanted to reason out and shift the burden back on Jesus. Perhaps, out of embarrassment, knowing that he himself hasn’t been able to comply strictly with the letter of the law. He seems to be saying: “Okay, I know of that requirement, but who is my neighbor?” On this occasion, perhaps he was expecting Jesus to say: “Your relative and your friend” in which case he would feel justified and say “I have done that” and therefore save face.
But no, Jesus answered it differently, and this is where the parable, or story of the Good Samaritan comes in. We say “story” because in fact the so-called narrative of the Good Samaritan is only fictional or hypothetical. Jesus was simply using it as a means to bring across the message he intended to answer to the lawyer’s question.
So what does the parable say? According to the text we just read, the parable went this way:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
So that’s how the story went. Now to put this in perspective, we have to examine the context under which the parable was narrated. The priests during Jesus’ time were considered the holiest and most righteous men in Jewish society. Because they were in charge of performing the rituals and sacraments inside the temple, they had the obligation to keep themselves holy, and yes, “righteous”. The Levites on the other hand, are the priests’ assistants. As such, they were considered 2nd to the priests in terms of holiness and righteousness.
Now where do the Samaritans come in? The relationship between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time was not good. They were hostile to each other. If we are to compare their relationship to some of the conflicting groups today, perhaps we can compare them to present-day America and ISIS; or the Klu Klux Klan (a white supremacist group) and the Black Panthers (a black militant and socialist organization); or the hostility between Sunnis and Shia Muslims; or if we are to put this on a more personal level, the relationship between two bitter ex-lovers. That’s how hostile Samaritan-Jewish relationship was. The Jews perceived Samaritans as unclean, for having married with women or men who worshiped idols. They were thus ethnically and religiously opposed to each other!
And so let’s go back to the parable. According to Jesus, a man was going down the winding and treacherous road towards Jericho when suddenly he was robbed, beaten and left within an inch from death. Now what happened next? While the man was lying there, a priest came by. Being the holiest and most righteous man in Jewish society, you would expect him to come to the aid of the poor man. But what happened? No, he didn’t, he left the man where he was and went the other way.
Now came the Levite. Levites belong to a class of religious men who were considered second in rank to the priests. Their holiness and righteousness were thus second to that of the priests. Naturally, you would expect the Levite to help, but no, on this occasion he didn’t. Like the priest, he left the man for dead and went the opposite way.
Now came the Samaritan. What did the Samaritan do? The Samaritan did the unthinkable. He did what was not possible. He went to the man, poured wine on his wounds to disinfect it; poured oil on it to sooth the pain; put him on top of his animal and brought him to an inn where he stayed for the night to take care of him. The next day, he gave the innkeeper two denarii and told the innkeeper to take care of the man and charge him for additional expenses that he, the innkeeper, may incur in the process. A denarius during at that time was equivalent to a day’s wage. On this occasion, the Samaritan gave two.
In one archaeological finding, it was found that in the days of the Roman Empire, a night’s stay at an inn can cost 1/32nd of a denarius. By giving the innkeeper two denarii, he was actually paying for two month’s worth of stay in the inn! For a man who comes from a group that is in a hostile relationship with the Jewish people, this kind of treatment is not only unthinkable, it is lavish! A lavish treatment for someone whom he and his people consider to be their enemy!
So what was Jesus trying to teach here? First, we must remember that this whole conversation started when the lawyer asked Jesus this question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In view of this, two things must therefore be considered:
(1) What the law says; and
(2) Our capacity to comply with the requirements of the law.
When the lawyer asked Jesus the question on what he must do in order to attain eternal life, Jesus turned the table on him and asked him what the law says. And the lawyer answered: we must love God, and we must love our neighbor. This was in fact a summation of the law. But what does loving God and loving our neighbor mean? And can we really do it?
This is where the difficulty comes in. Loving God means, loving him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our minds! The keyword here is the word “all”, because it says all our heart; all our soul; all our strength and all our minds. In effect, the law says, we should love God only and nobody else!
But is this even possible? Can we love God without loving anybody else? Can we love God without loving the other things in this world, like our jobs, our hobbies or the material things we have? Perhaps, if you confront a teenager with this question, that kid would simply tell you: “Are you kidding me?”
Not only that: the law says that we must love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves! The keywords here are the words: “as much”. The law practically requires us to do to others, what we would like to do for ourselves!
Now let’s be realistic here: Is this even humanly possible?
And we are not just talking about simply donations, or giving alms to the poor here. We are talking about giving as much to others as we would be giving to ourselves.
Who among us here would be willing to spend as much for our neighbor as much we would like to spend for ourselves? Perhaps some of us here are contemplating on taking a loan to buy a house and lot worth 3 or 5 Million Pesos, payable in 25 years; or perhaps to buy a car worth Php 800,000 payable in 5 years. Now are you willing to do that same thing for a neighbor?
Do we now see what these requirements now mean? Do we now see how difficult it is to follow and comply with what the law is saying?
That is perhaps the reason why when Jesus challenged the lawyer to do what the law says, the lawyer felt the need to justify himself in the hope of escaping from the predicament he placed himself in. Perhaps, that’s the reason why he asked “who is my neighbor”? Perhaps, he was expecting Jesus to say: “your fellow Jews”, “your relatives” or “your friends”, in which case he can now say that he did that and thus save face.
But Jesus was not finished with him. Jesus wanted to teach this lawyer a very important lesson. He wanted to shatter his pride and his sense of self-righteousness. And so he finished him off with this Story of the Good Samaritan.
In the parable, Jesus was practically saying: Loving your neighbor means loving your worst enemy. But in the parable, Jesus was also in effect saying, that this standard is too high, you won’t even be able to do it. In fact the Priests, and the Levites, the holiest men in Jewish society have not and will never be able to do it! That’s why he used the Samaritan story as an example to teach this lawyer a lesson, because Jesus knew the animosity they had with the Samaritans. He knew that the loving situation he gave by way of example would never happen between them! When Jesus said to the lawyer: “Go and do likewise”, he was in fact challenging him to do it! But deep in his heart the lawyer knew he would not be able to do it, and Jesus knew that as well. Jesus knew that by the lawyer’s own human strength he will not be able to do it.
Now who among us here can say with all honesty that he/she can love her/her worst enemy. And not only that, to love your worst enemy as much as you love yourself? Nobody. Indeed, it is inherently contrary to human nature and behavior! People nowadays are even calling for the restoration of the death penalty for crimes committed against them or against their loved ones. If there is therefore any purpose why the Parable of the Good Samaritan was given to us, it is to expose our inherent incapacity to comply with the letter of the law.
And so if loving God with all our hearts, souls, strength and mind, and loving our worst enemies as much as we love ourselves are the standards God’s law requires, and if indeed we do not have the capacity to meet these standards, are we therefore now doomed and bound for eternal condemnation?
This is where we segue into the reason why Jesus had to come into this world in the first place. This is where the Gospel or the Good News comes in.
But first we have to know the bad news. The bad news is, we’re all sinners. Like the Priest and the Levite in the Parable, we have not and we will never be able to meet God’s perfect standards.
In Romans 3:23 it says:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And what’s the consequence for this sin or sins of ours? In Romans 6:23 it says that the: “wages of sin is death.” In other words, the penalty for sin is death!
This therefore brings us to the question: are we then all doomed?
Not so. In John Chapter 10, Verse 10, it says:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NRSV)
In another translation it says:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan took away what was rightfully ours. He took away the abundant and eternal life that God already bestowed on us. And because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, they and us their offspring, have since then been condemned to suffer the penalty of death (both physical and spiritual). But God has a greater plan for us, and this is where the Gospel or the Good News comes in. In John 3:16 it says:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (NRSV)
God knew that humanity, in all of its frailty, would not be able to meet the standards He requires. As a God of justice, God hates sin and must give the corresponding punishment. But as a God of love, who loves us so much, He does not want us to continue suffering the brunt for our sins! And so what did God do? God, in all of His mercy sent His own Son to die for us, so that instead of us being punished for all of our wrongdoings, for all of our failures to meet His standard of righteousness, including loving our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus would bear it on the cross for us. Jesus became our sacrificial lamb.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people would slaughter a lamb or an animal as a sacrifice for sins. The sins of man were placed on the animal, and the animal held condemned for the man’s sins. But these sacrifices were not enough. For this reason, God gave the final solution: He sent his Son to suffer and to die in our place. In 2nd Corinthians Chapter 5, Verse 21:
“God made him who had no sin (referring to Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
He allowed his wrath and his Justice to be poured on his Son, instead of pouring it out on us. Jesus thus became our substitute. He held condemned for our sins. Our sinful record, past, present, and future, were placed on Him, while His clean and blameless record have been placed and imputed on us. So that when the day comes when we have to face God’s throne, God will not see our sinful record, but the imputed and blameless record of his Son.
So what does the Parable of the Good Samaritan teach us? It teaches us that God’s standards are too high for us to completely and faithfully comply; that our attempts to love him and to love our neighbors are not enough. It shows us the bad news, the ugly reality that we cannot in any way “earn” our way to eternal life: that our attempts to holiness pales in light of God’s perfect and very high standard. But the solution is in Jesus Christ, the center of the Gospel. In Him we can have life and have it to the full.
So what do we do to receive this great blessing. All we have to do is to believe, receive this free gift, and thank God for it. This way, our worship and our love for Him becomes true. Not out of duty, but out of gratitude for what He has done for us through his Son. We have to submit to his Lordship, recognize our sinful nature and repent (change our mind and attitude towards sin). We have to allow God’s Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily walk towards righteousness.
And yes, having been pardoned of our sins through Christ’s sacrificial act for us, we should be agents of God’s love for others, not as a way of earning our way to eternal life (because Christ already achieved that for us), but as a way of showing to others what God’s love is –that it knows no boundaries.