The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most popular and insightful teachings of Jesus Christ. One of the most fascinating things that He did, was to answer a question with a question. This parable too, was an answer to a question that came to Him from a lawyer, "Who is my neighbor?" This SpiritualRay post gives you a summary of The Parable of the Good Samaritan and its meaning.
Did You Know?
Unlike other parables of Jesus, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is only written in one gospel of the New Testament: The Gospel of Saint Luke, chapter 10, verses 29 to 37.
We come across the term “Good Samaritan” in many walks of life. There is a chain of hospitals that runs with the same name, there are many charitable organizations that have included these two words in their names, and most importantly, it is a popular metaphor which is used to address a person for his/her admirable work in terms of charity and helping the needy and oppressed. But do we actually understand the true connotation of this parable? And even if we understand it, can we actually say that we practice it in our daily lives? Is being a ‘Good Samaritan’ all about being religious and charitable? Is this what Jesus really meant?
The meaning of this parable has been interpreted by many knowledgeable experts in many ways; the readers only hoping that the real implication doesn’t get lost in these different interpretations. The following section gives a brief explanation of what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is, with the possible whys and hows associated with the theme, setting, and characters Jesus spoke about in this story, thereby helping us understand the true intention of Christ when he put forth this story to the masses.
Meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan
If you have the read the Bible quite as much, you must have noticed that Jesus often answered the questions asked to Him in Socratic method, meaning, the answer was given out in the form of another question. Also, he liked to engross his listeners in parables, from which came the essence of the message that he intended to deliver. The Parable of the Good Samaritan was spoken when Jesus was questioned, rather tested, by a lawyer on the way to eternal life. What he said, is written below, an excerpt from Luke 10:25:37, according to the English Standard Version of the New Testament.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, 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?” And he answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This parable seems quite easy to understand. Any reader would clearly be able to say that this parable tells about a good man who refused to push aside the robbed man who needed help, unlike the priest and the Levite. In fact, most of us would be able to relate to it, especially when recall the instances where we did, or perhaps still do, neglect the need of others, so as to avoid the unnecessary burden of responsibility. This is but one aspect of this parable. Before we jump to the meaning and interpretation of this message, let us first take a peek into the background of this story, so as to understand why Jesus chose these characters and setting, and what lies deep within this parable.
Why did Jesus choose the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? During the time of Christ, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was quite a dangerous path, and was also known as ‘The Bloody Pass’. It was the road where robbers would often attack travelers and leave them to die. The road was indeed a frightful one to take! Perhaps the reason why the Priest and the Levite didn’t stop by to help the injured man was because: (1) Knowing the location’s true nature, they presumed he was already dead and that the robbers may still be close enough; (2) They thought that the man could possibly be faking it, just to attract attention from travelers and rob them when they came close.
Why did Jesus choose the characters of a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan; the latter being a controversial figure among his audiences―the Jews? Well, the Jews hated the Samaritans, even more than they hated the Romans! They considered Samaritans to be low-caste because they intermarried with pagans and did not abide by the Jewish laws. Reportedly, they had also desecrated the Jewish temple with pig’s blood (some sources say human bones) when the Jews tried to build a temple in Samaria. The Jews considered them and their land to be unclean, and even took a longer route around, so as to avoid entering their territory. The hatred was reciprocated by the Samaritans too, mainly because of the way the Jews treated them. The animosity was pretty intense and mutual.
It was Jesus’s way to deliver sermons and teach by citing most unlikely examples, in this case, the compassion of a Samaritan, a figure totally disregarded by His listeners. But, there was a reason why He did so.
The Meaning Behind the Parable
When it comes to being compassionate towards your neighbor, and to the definition of a neighbor, there are no conditions applied! Let us clarify this statement by citing the roles that the three passersby played in this story. Beginning with the priest, when he saw the half-dead man on the road, he passed by from the other side, completely avoiding what he saw. Now, in those days, the priests were not allowed to touch unclean things, and something like blood or a dead body was considered to be absolutely defiling. Although, the Mishnah does give an exception to this rule in case of neglected dead bodies, the priest still chose to stay away from the “unclean” source. The same may have been the case with the Levite, that along with the fear of robbers still being around, and perhaps the hesitation to get involved in an unknown person’s affair.
Of all the other tribes, Jesus chose the Samaritan to be the one who was compassionate and helpful to this unknown man, who was most likely a Jew. Not only did he stop by, he also cleaned his wounds with wine and oil, placed him on his animal (which means he walked the remaining distance) and took him to an inn where he took care of him all night. Not only this, he ensured that after he was gone, the inn keeper took care of him, and also paid him money for it, promising that he would pay the extra money spent on his way back. He played the role of a true neighbor, taking care of the injured man at his own expense, without expecting anything in return. The Good Samaritan did not know this man, did not think if he was a Jew, a friend, or an enemy. He did not bother about the risks involved, the possibility of him being robbed too, all he thought was that this man was in need, and he must do all that he can to help him come out of his pain. A truly remarkable tale of unconditional compassion!
Through this parable, Jesus not only answered the lawyer, but conveyed to all of us that when it comes to loving your neighbor, we must be ready to serve the needy, irrespective of the parameters that divide us. He implies that compassion is the link that unites all mankind, irrespective of where they come from. That our ultimate purpose is to love and serve humanity. All who come to you for help, all you meet in your everyday lives are your neighbors, and to be a Good Samaritan, you must be willing to serve them wholeheartedly.
This teaching of Jesus is interpreted by many experts in different ways. One of the most popular allegoric interpretation is given by Origen Adamantius, an early Christian theologian from Alexandria. According to his interpretation, “The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast [animal] is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.”
Another interpretation connotes that Christ is the good Samaritan because he is the one who saves, our true Savor. The pouring of wine and oil on the wounds is symbolic of healing our wounds with repentance and deliverance of grace; while the inn in the story is the Church, signifying that restoration and healing is a gradual process that can be attained through the Church, the place where Christ keeps us in safety and care.
Many theologians fear that the actual intention of Jesus behind this parable may perhaps get lost in the many interpretations. Maybe He just wanted to tell us all, of the true path to the kingdom of heaven, and not put his own reference in the story at all, or, maybe he did. The point is that in the midst of these interpretations and analysis, we must not forget the main purpose behind this parable, to love our neighbor unconditionally in any manner possible. To conclude, we would just quote an excerpt from a speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr., using this parable as a reference: “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”