The parable of the Good Samaritan is probably familiar to you. You may know the basics of the story by heart. But a parable was a tool that Jesus utilized to teach an important biblical truth, bound up in a story with people, places, and situations that were immediately understandable and relevant to the audience He was speaking to.
In the preface to the parable in verses 25-29, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by an expert in the religious law, probably a Pharisee. Jesus’ response was the two greatest commandments: “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 neighbor as yourself”. You can almost hear the Pharisee’s mind and motivation as he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Through the series of questions the expert was asking Jesus, it doesn’t seem that he was pursuing who his neighbor was with a sincere heart. More likely, he was self-righteously trying to prove that he already kept the letter of the law. To most Jewish teachers, “neighbor” meant fellow Israelite; a person who was just like him ethnically and religiously. So, as an expert law-keeper, this man loved God and also loved his neighbor. He met the requirements; or did he?
How easy it is to love those who are just like us! It is easy to love the person who looks like me, dresses like me, is in the same social class as me, acts like me, and goes to church just like me. No wonder the expert thought his eternal life inheritance was secure! BUT Jesus describes “neighbor” through the parable of the robbery victim left for dead in the road. Which of those passing by stopped and helped the victim?
The priest and Levite not only did NOT help, but walked to the other side of the road to avoid being near the victim. We may think that is just awful, but the law expert would not have. For per Old Testament law, a priest becomes unclean if he touches a dead body. So, the priest and Levite needed to guard themselves in case the victim was dead, and stay far away from breaking the ceremonial law.
But the Samaritan (person from Samaria) went above and beyond to care for the victim. He stopped, he bandaged him, and he transported him to an inn, paid for his lodging and care until he had recovered. We far underestimate what the Samaritan in the story meant to the Jews. Samaritans were not just outcasts. Their shock at Jesus’ choice of hero, would be akin to an enemy of this country; a betrayer of their nation. Possible examples might be how the United States viewed the Japanese during World War II or al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. Samaritans were despised by the Jews.
So, why did Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the hero, the good “neighbor”? If the Jewish law expert’s neighbor was a Samaritan, who is God saying is MY neighbor? The family I met at the grocery store on food stamps? The homeless person that talked to me in the street? The unemployed father who came to church and asked for help? The homosexual woman that I know at work? The new person in town who is a minority race and no one welcomes?
My neighbor may not be someone easy to love or maybe even to be around. My neighbor may not look or smell nice. My neighbor may have a lifestyle of alcohol and drug abuse or sexual immorality.
Jesus tells us to love them. Through the gospels we know that Jesus ministered to the poor, sinful, downtrodden, little-valued, and ugly of his day. It is what He expects of us. “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).