Updated: Jun 10, 2019
You have heard it said to love your neighbors, but who is your neighbor? The answer to the question is in the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, which is where we got our name from, found in Luke 10:25-37.
Before digging into the story, we must have the understanding that Jesus is by far the best teacher ever known. He teaches through metaphors, nature, and through illustrations to pinpoint on how to enter the Kingdom. Jesus speaks of the parable to show who God is and his relationship to humanity. The parables are to be studied as a Jewish Haggadah (a written guide to the Passover Seder; It is used to illustrate a point of the law) due to it represents a Jewish form, and Jesus is a Jew. The Haggadah reached the heart to challenge the mind, and the parables fall into that realm. Each parable has a surprising action by one of the leading characters or an unexpected change of events.
The parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a person who is an expert in the law asking Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus, of course, answers with a question by asking the lawyer what is written. In which the lawyer responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with
all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5)." "Do not seek
revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but
love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord (Lev. 19:18)."
Jesus replied by saying that the lawyer answered correctly. But the expert of the law wanted to justify himself by proceeding to ask who is my neighbor. This particular lawyer in today's world would be known as a theologian. In Jesus' day, the lawyers loved talking about social problems but not wanting to take action on the issue. This lawyer knew one of the most important scriptures in the Old Testament but did not seem to understand what it meant entirely. Jesus does give him an answer, but he does it through giving him a parable-a scenario.
A man was traveling the road to Jericho from Jerusalem, where he fell among robbers that had left him half dead. A few things need to be noted: First, the way to Jericho from Jerusalem is known as an unsafe route because of the robbers and brigands. Jericho was a wealthy community, and robbers in the hills could easily approach travelers who are alone. Secondly, the original audience would understand the term "half dead" as a threshold of dying but also a concern of ritual purity. Ritual purity held importance in Jewish spirituality. Lastly, the lawyer would know this road quite well and probably knows about the narrow path and the curves this road can take. He would have been able to picture the half-dead man.
As the parable proceeds the Priest and the Levite pass the half-dead man by walking on the other side. Again, the original audience would know the backstory of the Priest. The Priest served two weeks a year at the temple; the temple requires twenty-four teams of the Priest. So the Priest that was traveling might have just finished his time in the temple. Likewise, a Levite is a servant of the temple. Priest and the Levite were probably Sadducees that follow the written law with exactitude. Sadducees focused on the temple, its worship and priesthood, and more strict understanding of purity and penal law, conservative interpretation of scripture. They both make no effort to help him mostly because of their knowledge of the biblical law. The Priest and the Levite were trying to remain pure; therefore, they crossed to the other side to avoid impurity. Some say that the Priest might not have helped due to thinking the Priest would help. And the Levite might not have helped because he knew the Priest passed around it; therefore, it must not be a good thing. Either way, compassion was not shown to the half-dead man.
Continuing onto verse 33, a Samaritan comes along and helps the half-dead man. This action is shocking to the original audience due to Samaritans being known as the enemy to the Jewish people. In John 4, Jesus and the disciples have rejected an inn in a Samaritan village because they are Jewish. Samaritans accept the Pentateuch with some variant readings and live their faith in a close community.
As the story ends, Jesus asks the lawyer who is the neighbor out of the three. The lawyer could not even tell the Samaritan; instead, he says the one who showed mercy (37). All three looked at the traveler, but only the Samaritan saw him. The Priest and the Levit continued the action of the robbers by abandoning him to die. The Samaritan reversed all the effects of the robber, Priest, and the Levite. He went to him and bounded up to his wounds. He sat the man on his donkey and brought him to an inn. The Samaritan paid for the inn and gave the innkeeper an advanced payment to take care of the man and would reward the innkeeper for his best care.
If that does not show who a neighbor is, then take a look at Jesus ministry, he was the ultimate good Samaritan. In Matthew 9, he saw a crowd of people who were weary and had compassion towards them. In Matthew 14, he healed the sick. In Mark 6, he taught those who were like a sheep but without a shepherd. He cured the sick, befriended the outcast, touched lepers, cherished children. When He saw brokenness, his heart moved with compassion. Compassion is not sympathy; Sympathy is a feeling, and compassion is something you show and do. Compassion is about the moment. It is what I have in hand-money, talent, encouragement, a shoulder to cry, that will meet another person's need. Compassion shows empathy-- as if we were in their shoes and how we would like to be treated in the situation.
We can never separate our relationship with God from our relationship with our fellow man. So who is our neighbor is anyone in need with whom one comes in contact with and to show compassion and kindness beyond the bounds of their religion, ethnic group, and background. Good Samaritans Alliance sees that everyone in the world is our neighbor, and every individual is called to care for those in need no matter their story.
Flattery, Amy. “Blog | United States | The Center for Holy Lands Studies.” The Center for Holy Lands Studies | Springfield, MO, 15 Apr. 2019, www.holylandsstudies.org/blog/the-final-week-of-jesus-the-triumphal-entry. Image
Jeremiah, Dr. David. LIFE BEYOND AMAZING: 9 Decisions That Will Transform Your Life Today. THOMAS NELSON PUB, 2018. pp. 85–104.
Young, Brad H. The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. Baker Academic, 2008.
Zondervan. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: New International Version, Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture, Red Letter Edition. Edited by Craig S Keener and John H Walton, Harpercollins Christian Pub, 2016.