Recently I’ve been intrigued by any account in scripture involving encounters between Jews and Samaritans. Some of those accounts include the woman at the well and the Good Samaritan. Without going into extreme details, I will give a quick synopsis on who the Samaritans really are, and their origin. First of all Samaritans are half-Jewish people. They are a cross between Orthodox Jews and Gentiles. In other words they are what we refer to as mixed. Because of their defective devotion to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. The Samaritans and Jews were mostly hostile to each other. A Jew believed that he could become contaminated by passing through Samaritan territory, so Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the Jordan river and avoid Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross back over the river again once they had reached their destination. The Samaritans often taunted the Jews. They rejected all of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch, and they claimed to have an older copy than the Jews and boast that they observe the precepts better. The Jews repaid them with hatred. They rejected the Samaritan copy of the law and publicly denounced that Samaritans were of any Jewish birth (John 4:12). As a result, the Samaritans were publicly cursed in their synagogues. They could not serve as a witness in the Jewish courts and could not be converted to Judaism as a proselyte.
The story of the Good Samaritan has come to be one of the most beloved and well known parables of Jesus. It is so popular that many non-Christians have heard of it at some point. However, there are many interpretations of what people think the parable really means. There are the traditional beliefs as well as modern interpretations as to what message Jesus was trying to convey to His audience. Before I state my case, let me say this. It is very important to understand that the scripture means what is says and it says what it means. It is equally important not to read the text with a one track mind. The intention when reading the Biblical text must never be for finding our own meaning and relevance. But more importantly it is critical to understand the passage in its context. By that I mean what was the text saying in the time and place it was written; what was the historical setting; and who was the audience for the message that is being conveyed. It is only then one can truly understand how to apply the scripture to the ‘here’ and ‘now’.
Here in the Good Samaritan Parable, the story is told in Luke 10:29–37: Jesus tells this story as His answer to a Lawyer who asked him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Knowing that His audience would have hated Samaritans, Jesus proceeded to tell the story of a ‘Good’ Samaritan. For Jesus’ all-Jewish audience, the words ‘Good’, and ‘Samaritan’, cannot be used in the same sentence. To them all Samaritans are considered to be abominable and detestable. Therefore portraying a Samaritan in a positive light would have come as a shock to Jesus’ audience. In an attempt to show them what loving God looks like and knowing their hearts, Jesus proceeded to tell the story. A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by robbers who strip him and beat him. A priest and a Levite pass by without helping him. But a Samaritan stops and cares for him, taking him to an inn where the Samaritan pays for his care.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho at that time was one that was treacherous to anyone that was an easy prey for robbers and hijackers. It was notorious for its danger and difficulty, and was known as the “Way of Blood” because of the blood which is often shed there by robbers. Though the text doesn’t state outright that the injured man was a Jew, the story itself leads us to believe that he was. Also Jesus intentionally leaves the man’s identity out because the audience being Jewish would naturally assume that he was a Jew. Again, when you understand the bad-blood that exists between Jews and Samaritans as I stated above, then you get the essence of what Jesus was saying in this story.
Now the priests were descendents of Aaron, who were men of God that were set apart for temple worship. This so-called priest was most certainly riding a donkey because he was in the upper classes of society. They were considered to be holy men of God and therefore well respected among Jews. They were men who knew the scripture better than anyone else. Yet with the decorated ministerial resume that I just laid out, Jesus tells us that the priest saw the man and literally passed on the other side (Luke 10:31). He obviously didn’t want anything to do with a man who was probably dying in a pool of blood on the side of the road. Likewise the Levites were also men of God. They were not as prestigious as the priests but very well known for their temple service and devotion to God. Levites were descendants of Levi but not of Aaron, and they assisted the priests (Aaron’s descendants) in the temple. According to Jesus, the Levite went a little further than the priest. Unlike the priest who looked away, he came and looked at the man and then walked away and passed on the other side (Vs. 32). I think he is deserving of a little more credit than the Priest for actually being curious enough to go take a look at another human being left for dead on the roadside. Though I commend him for perhaps an effort, he was no different, in that he failed to go a step further and help the dying man. Both men, who were supposed to be men of God, left a fellow human being dying in his misery and wounds.
In my opinion, both the Priest and the Levite are no different than the men who robbed, beat, and left him for dead. The men robbed him and almost killed him, but the Priest and Levite were quite content with leaving him to die. While the robbers hurt the man by violence, the Priest and Levite did the same by neglect. All three are guilty. ”To the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin,” (James 4:17). They failed in their religious duty and in their responsibility to their fellowmen. The fact the man was most likely of Jewish descent makes it even worse. We know for sure that they would not have helped a Samaritan, but not helping someone of Jewish descent, speaks to the spiritual depravity of those men.
Now let’s take a quick glimpse at the man at the epicenter of this story. He is the Good Samaritan that Jesus is highlighting as the man with the real heart. Unlike the Priest and the Levite with their titles, fame, position of authority and influence, he is just a simple man. Jesus said, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him”(Vs. 33-34). What the Priest and Levite did was unconscionable, but what the Samaritan did is breathtaking. The word that speaks to me the most here is the word ‘compassion’. He was moved with compassion for a man that was bleeding and dying on Jericho road. The Priest and the Levite should have been the ones to extend compassion to him but instead it is a man who he himself would have regarded as an outcast that helped him.
We are told right in the text that the Samaritan poured in oil and wine as he cared for him. Just as a side note to think about; it is interesting to note that the man used oil and wine because ironically they were frequently used by both the Priest and Levite in temple service. Both oil and wine were used to pour on the altar before God and then Jesus says the Samaritan used it to pour on the man. Pretty intriguing isn’t it? Furthermore the Samaritan cleaned-up his wounds, bandaged it, placed him on his own donkey, took him to an inn, paid for his care, and then promised to return and pay for any extra cost when he returns to check on him. The Samaritan was intent on seeing this man live again. He was determined to not let this man die. He held on to him and perhaps said to him, “I will not let you die”. The Samaritan was the real man of God in this story. In fact Jesus asked the Lawyer, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” When he responded and said, “He who showed mercy unto him”, then Jesus instructed him to “go and do likewise”. Notice that Jesus did not use the Priest or the Levite as a model for righteousness; instead he uses the rejected Samaritan.
Much time is spent in the church criticizing the Priest and Levite for their actions but I’m afraid that the very same attitude exists in the church at large. The type of care and compassion that Jesus laid out in this story is no longer seen in the church today. In fact the compassion Jesus modeled in His own ministry is absent in the church. Instead what we are sure to see and experience in the Christian church today is the type of religion and coldness displayed by the Priest and the Levite. “Every man for himself” and “the survival of the fittest” are now the laws that govern in the church today. There are folks in our churches that are walking around bleeding and leaving the traces all over while others fail to pour in the oil and wine. Like the Priest and Levite, the church has grown quite comfortable with watching people die, while we continue with our religious duties. We think that God is interested in our plush buildings and church attendance while people are dying in their demise. We have failed in the most fundamental attribute of what it means to be a Christian; that is simply to have love one for another (John 13:35).
There are people sitting right in our churches that are wounded and just need someone to care. Christians are more concerned with how others got into their mess in the first place, rather than being concerned with helping them get out of it. The Samaritan did not care about how the man got injured, or what he was doing by himself on the treacherous Jericho road. More importantly he was not at all interested in the man’s ethnicity, race, religion, social, or economic status; his only care was, here was a man that desperately needs someone to help him. The very opposite is found in Christianity today. Christians are more inclined to add insult to the injury of others, than to help them. I am reminded of a book that I read some years ago titled, “Why do Christians shoot at their wounded?” One of the greatest flaws of the Christian church is a lack of compassion. If you pay close attention to ants that we all consider as pests, they may have a lesson or two to teach us. One of those lessons is that they never leave their wounded behind. Often times you would see an ant carrying another ant on its back. Even the military teaches its combat forces to never leave their wounded or dead behind enemy lines. They bring home their wounded and they bury their dead with honor and dignity. Why when it comes to Christianity there are so many bleeding and wounded lying at our altars and sitting in our pews without anyone taking notice, including clergy. Like the Priest and the Levite, pastors and ministers today are caught up in religion while neglecting the primary purpose of caring for God’s people. They are more interested leaving legacies and building their own kingdoms of which they rule as kings over their loyal subjects. Pastoring is no longer what it was meant to be. It is now a position of power and an opportunity for men and women to live lavish at the expense of the Gospel and God’s people.
The church today does not look anything like Biblical Christianity. The church is simply a form of godliness and a shell of what the true church looks like. The true church looks like the Acts 2 church, who sold everything they had and divided it equitably among themselves, so that no one had lack of anything. I’m not here to suggest that everyone sell their possessions and do the same, but at the very least Christians ought to be compassionate toward each other. On the contrary what you see in the church today is a spirit of selfishness, greed, and competitive jealousy among believers. Christians who have the ability to help others, are satisfied to say to you “God bless you” or “I’m praying for you”, while you sink in deep mire and might be suffering with tremendous need. I love the way James puts it, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James. 2:15-17). John follows by saying, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17, 18).
In conclusion the Apostle Paul said these words, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). I cannot take the time to take those words apart but I will say this. The word Paul used here for ‘weep’ and the word John uses for “Jesus wept” in John 11:35, is the same Greek word ‘dakruó’ which literally means to shed tears with deep sorrow. It does not mean to simply pray for someone, but rather it calls for a much deeper commitment. When Jesus wept for Lazarus, he didn’t just pat his sisters on their backs, but he went a step further; He raised their brother to life again. Paul’s use of the word weep requires deep empathy followed by compassion toward that person. If you are reading this article I encourage you to genuinely examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith or not. Ask yourself when was the last time you helped someone who desperately needed your assistance? Take some time to reflect on your Christianity and see if maybe there is someone you might have passed bleeding on the wayside. Be sensitive to the needs of those who may need you on your journey through life and take the time to help them. Like the Samaritan, showing care for someone often requires more than words of affirmation and prayer; it may cost you time and money. Are you like the Priest and Levite who were very religious men that were in the temple everyday and knew the ways of God? Or are you like the Good Samaritan who knew God enough to know that he had a responsibility to help someone who probably would have died without him? The decision is yours, but I admonish you to GO AND DO LIKEWISE.