The Parable of the Good Samaritan
In this parable, Jesus encounters a lawyer/scribe who asks him the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus asks him what’s written in the Law (i.e. Torah) and how he (the lawyer) reads it.
He replies, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus assures him that he gave the right answer and said, “Do this and you will live.” But then the lawyer throws another question at Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”
In typical Jesus-fashion, he tells a parable (click here to read it).
When he finishes, Jesus asks, “Who of these three do you think is the neighbor of the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” And the lawyer replies, “the one who had mercy on him.”
And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
What Does the Story Really Mean?
Now if you’re like every other person in Sunday School, then you read this story and think to yourself: I should be like the Good Samaritan.
And you’d be right… but of course there’s more to it.
This isn’t a story about how to be like a good Samaritan; this is a story about how to interpret the Torah, specifically, how to interpret Leviticus 19:18.
It’s why the lawyer asks the question: “Who is my neighbor?” He might be able to recite the Law, but he leaves it to Jesus to interpret it.
How does Jesus interpret the Law?
Jesus inherently sees the Law as life-giving when it’s interpreted correctly. If you read his teachings carefully, you’ll notice that he doesn’t get worked up about the Law itself; he gets upset when the teachers of the Law interpret it poorly and don’t do what it says.
Jesus also maintains a reading of the Law that prioritizes compassion, action, and solidarity with the suffering. While the religious leaders maintain a reading that prioritizes ritual purity and separatism.
It’s why in the parable the priest and the Levite walked on the other side of the road from the suffering man, but the Samaritan — someone despised by the Jewish community for the way he interpreted the Law — showed pity and acted on his compassion, entered into solidarity with the suffering man and healed his wounds.
What really made Jesus upset?
In America, we’re no strangers to church leaders who prioritize their own “holiness’ over the addressable needs of those who are hurting. We’re no strangers to Christians (who aren’t leaders) who do the same thing.
Joshua Marshall Strahan wrote an article suggesting that what frustrates Jesus most in this story and throughout Luke isn’t only that the Teachers of the Law maintained a belief about God that prioritized rituals and purity over compassion, but rather their interpretations of the Law also affected their hearers.
In other words, Jesus was frustrated by what the Teachers of the Law were teaching because it ultimately lacked a demonstration of power!
They weren’t teaching the people about a God driven by compassion, action, and solidarity with God’s people; they taught that God cared more about how pure, holy, and different they were from those who weren’t Jewish… or who didn’t maintain their understanding of Torah.
What did Jesus wanted the lawyer to do
Here’s the other thing: Jesus didn’t care that the lawyer could recite the Law; he put more value in doing the Law.
Notice when the Lawyer recited the Law, Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” And then at the end of the parable when the Lawyer correctly identified the neighborly character, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus wanted the religious guy to be religious about demonstrating love, not talking about it.
How to be a Good Samaritan?
This leaves us with a few questions:
- Who are you more like in the story: the Lawyer or the Samaritan?
- Do you talk about loving people more than you actually love people?
- Who is the “suffering person” in your life right now?
- Really — who is that person? Identify them.
- How can you be a neighbor to them?
Do you know who they are? Take one actionable step toward showing compassion, action, and solidarity with them TODAY. Don’t talk about loving them tomorrow. Love them today.
The beautiful thing about the parable of the Good Samaritan is that passion disrupted the religious people’s narrative. Allow compassion to disrupt yours.
I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be marked by how well I love other people. I don’t want to be known for how I talked about how loving people is a good idea, but I actually want to do the dirty work, crawl in the ditch with the hurting person, and help them heal.
Let’s go love some people today.