The term “Good Samaritan” has become part of the English language. It comes directly from the Bible, and is often used to describe a stranger stopping to help someone in need. Everyone knows what “Good Samaritan” means, whether or not they have actually read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.
But there’s a problem. The parable of The Good Samaritan as Jesus told it means so much more than helping a stranger. Let’s look at it.
You have a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho – two Jewish cities in close proximity to each other. So, it’s reasonable to assume that the traveler in this parable is Jewish. Along the way to Jericho, he is attacked, robbed, and left for dead.
First, we read that a Priest sees the man lying on the road, and keeps on going without stopping to help. The Priest would have worked at the temple in Jerusalem, and was also Jewish.
Next, a Levite walks by without helping. Levites were Jewish men who also worked at the temple in Jerusalem.
If you’re counting, that’s TWO Jewish religious leaders that ignored the Jewish man lying on the road.
Finally, a Samaritan arrives on the scene and notices the injured man. He, unlike the Priest and Levite, stops to help the man. He uses expensive ointment to treat his wounds, and pays for him to recover in a nearby inn.
We can all agree that it was a noble act of the Samaritan to stop and help the injured stranger. If there was a news broadcast about the story today, he would no doubt be labeled a “Good Samaritan” for stopping and rendering aid. There’s a lot more going on, though.
You see, Samaritans and Jews did not like each other at all.
They hated each other.
There was a lot of tension between Jews and Samaritans at that time, much like the friction between Israelis and Palestinians today.
Simply put: Jews and Samaritans wanted nothing to do with each other (See John 4:9).
Knowing this fact is essential to understanding the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the Jewish priest or Jewish Levite that helped the injured Jewish man, it was the Samaritan. It was a man that society would say shouldn’t even care about the injured Jewish man.
But he did care. He did help - at great personal expense to himself. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is not simply about helping a stranger.
It’s about helping a stranger even if you do not like them.
It’s about helping a stranger even if it costs you a lot of money.
Jesus told the parable to illustrate what it really means to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the full significance of the parable has gotten watered down in the way we use the term “Good Samaritan.”