What is a "Good Samaritan?"

Most of us think of a “Good Samaritan” as a person who did something nice to someone unexpectedly. It could be a person who helped someone in distress or even a person who put their own life at risk in a life-threatening situation. This does carry much of the meaning of the idea of a “Good Samaritan.” However, when we look at the parable (a story with a meaning) in the original account, which Jesus told, we find some interesting facts that make us think.

A Samaritan in Jesus’ day was not seen as “good” at all. They were poor farmers left in the land when the rest of the Jewish people were taken off to Babylon in exile. Over the years, other people came to the land and they intermarried. They were half-breed Jews with an impure, mixed religion. They were despised.

The context for the story starts when an expert in the law of Moses asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus knows they are setting up a trap for Him so He asks the question back: “What do you think? How does the law read?” The lawyer answers, “Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responds to the religious leaders, by saying basically, “Yep, you got it right. Now go and do that and you will live.” Now this lawyer could have responded in a couple of different ways. He either could have admitted that he was not following the law as stated and repented and had a change of heart, or he could try to justify himself. The lawyer chose the second. So, he asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?"

Jesus takes up the question by telling the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was a long and dangerous journey. Sure enough, the man had gotten beat up by robbers, stripped of everything and left half-dead. Jesus’ audience is most likely anticipating this outcome. But this is where the story gets interesting. A priest comes by but does not stop. He walks way on the other side of the path. Then, a Levite comes along and does the same. If we understand these two travelers, they are clergyman who both serve and maintain the temple and its rituals. They do not want to become unclean by a bloodied man on the side of the road. They do not have the conviction in their heart about the half-dead man but want to keep themselves looking good on the outside and walk by.

Then comes the despised Samaritan. He has compassion on the beaten man. He takes care of his wounds, puts him on his own animal, and brings him to a place where he can stay and heal. Beyond this, he makes sure that all bills are paid.

Jesus then asks the key question: “Which of the three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer must respond. People are listening. He says, “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring himself to even say, “The Samaritan” or admit that the Samaritan was a better neighbor than he. But Jesus tells him to be like the Samaritan, the one who showed mercy.

Now this is more than a story to outsmart a religious expert in the law. It says something to all of us. The story shows that it takes more than knowing about God but a change of heart toward Him. The story tells us to open up our eyes and look around us. We overlook many who are in need. Perhaps we think that we are better or we don’t want to have any association with someone because it might “ruin” our reputation.

Who are the “despised” in your circle or part of your world? Would you reach out to them if they are in need? Do we hesitate and walk around those beat up by this world? We make up many excuses. We say we are too busy or are not qualified. Often, we never try. It can be messy and take time. The compassion and care for our neighbor who may not be easy to love at all, comes from a heart to love God first. Jesus gave Himself up as a sacrifice to bring us to God and to eternal life. Being like the Samaritan is to be like Jesus. It may not make you famous. Being a Samaritan is a rather humble thing. You may even be looked down upon because of your associations.  Is that worth it? Jesus laid down His life and did it for you. Knowing and loving Him is worth everything.
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Mark Anderson