I love how Jesus used stories to convey the truth he was teaching. Living in a world of sound bits and video clips, a compelling narrative still shines through etching itself in memory. Jesus put handles on the truth, helping people to remember the lessons learned by recalling the storyline. No example of this is greater than his parable of The Good Samaritan.
In looking back over the story we see the actions of each character revealing their motivations and the heart issues Jesus looked to address in his audience.
The setting of the story originates out if a conversation Jesus has with a lawyer looking to get Jesus to pinpoint what a person must do to be qualified as ‘serving God.’ The lawyer knows he is to “love God and love his neighbor” and in so looks to establish parameters on serving people around him. Jesus tells the Samaritan story as an example of who has the correct heart in serving others.
The Man on the road: Stripped, robbed, left for dead
This character transcends the role of plot catalyst to an identifiable persona for people who hear the Samaritan story. Many feel stripped of their hope, robbed of their joy, and left spiritually dead by the things they have tried to fill the emptiness. The hurt man embodies these emotions for the listener, showing our vulnerabilities and need for others.
The role of the priest in ancient Israel was to perform sacrifices for people, absolving them of their sin. This important role allowed people to be connected to God through the act of sacrifice. The priest was an important person with stature in the community. By including a priest in the story, Jesus points to how importance and busyness can blind us from service. Ignoring the very thing that makes the priest special (serving others) is what causes his guilt.
From the Old Testament we find the Levites as people dedicated unto God, declared holy through ceremonial washing. The importance of the Levite was directly tied to their piety. The rules which guided them declared touching unclean things made them unclean, causing them to rewash themselves through the ceremony. The Levite’s dismissal of the hurt man can be tied to his unwillingness to help someone who could make him ‘dirty’ (ceremonially unclean).
The Good Samaritan
Historically the rift between the Jews and the Samaritans is something of note. In helping the hurt man the Samaritan had nothing to gain; No societal pressure or shared identity to force his actions. Moved with compassion the Samaritan uses his own supplies to dress the wounds of the hurt man. The Samaritan displaces himself allowing the hurt man to ride his donkey instead. Taking the hurt man to a place of safety, the Samaritan pays for the man’s rehabilitation. The Samaritan, an outsider, becomes the salvation for the hurting through his acts of compassion. In the same way, Jesus’ example of the Samaritan being inconvenienced by love for others in the story echoes God’s love for us.
Here are some questions we should ask ourselves in relating to the Samaritan story:
- Do I try to put parameters on serving others?
- Are I too busy ‘helping people’ to help people?
- Do I think serving people with ‘dirty’ lives will make me spiritually unclean?
- Will I be inconvenienced to share God’s love?
The story that we live, like those in the Samaritan story, will also reveal our heart and compassion towards others. In answering the questions we look to Jesus’ final words to the lawyer.
So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”