There’s a lot of symbolism in the Bible, and this is especially true of the parables. Sometimes, Jesus explained the parable, as in the Parable of the Sower, where he gave the disciples the key to unlock it; the seed is the word and the soils represent the differing responses to Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes he did not explain the parable and this has led to some really off the wall interpretations. The Good Samaritan is one of the best known parables in the Bible, it isn’t about Jesus finding us; ‘bleeding and dying on the Jericho road’, although there is a sense in which that is true, it’s a reply to a direct question and it would have shocked Jesus’ hearers to the core. As usual, the passage can be read here.
We are not told who the expert in the law was or whether his question was genuine or an attempt to catch Jesus out. The expert in the law would have specialised in interpreting the Old Testament laws in tiny details, so when Jesus asked him how he read it? The man gave Jesus a text book response quoting two scriptures;
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; (Deuteronomy 6:5) and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Leviticus 19:18)
We know from Matthew’s Gospel how Jesus felt about these commands when he said; “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40) So far, so good, everyone seemed to be in agreement, I wonder if the disciples were thinking ‘everything is going rather well today’. Sadly, the harmony was very short lived and when the expert asked his follow up question; ‘And who is my neighbour?’ the atmosphere must have been very tense. It is in response to this question that Jesus told the parable.
Before we look at the parable, we should first look at what it means to love the Lord our God. The experts in the law were constantly seeking interpret and reinterpret the law and in doing so, were limiting its scope. The question; ‘who is my neighbour?’ is like asking; ‘how far do I need to take this?’ and that attitude has an impact on his understanding of how we should love the Lord. Notice too that the question was ‘what must I do?’. The problem is, if the law hangs on these two commands, we are in trouble, none of us have that complete devotion to the Lord all of the time and that is why we need Jesus. All of us have failed and fallen short, it isn’t targets we need, it’s grace but that is for another passage.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is only about 15 miles long but it descends 3,400 feet, it’s full of twists and turns and it was well known as a place of bandits and robbers. That a man was robbed would have been no surprise and even the responses of the Levite and the Priest would not have been unexpected. To stop would mean to place themselves in danger and they were certainly not the last people to place their own interests above those of others. The surprise in the parable was that not only did someone stop but that the person was a Samaritan.
The Samaritans and the Jews had hated each other for centuries. They shared a belief in the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament), but whereas the Jews worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans believed worship should be carried out on Mount Gerizim. There is more information on how the Samaritans came into being in 2 Kings 17:24-28 and on their relationship with the Jews at the time of Jesus in John 4:4-26. It was perhaps the sort of hatred that we see today, when people are hated solely because of where they are from or their ethnicity. As I write this, the news is full of a video of British football fans chanting racist abuse and pushing a black man away as he tried board an underground train in Paris. In the parable, the expert can’t even use the word ‘Samaritan’! (v37)
The Samaritan took pity on the man. He saw his need and he sought to meet them. Physical, medical and financial, he met them all. The Priest and the Levite thought of themselves. Is there a hint of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law;
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)
The Samaritan thought of the man in need and saw past the dangers, the expense and the ethnic background. There is a danger in knowing God more. We love him more and then we begin to love the ones that he loves. The ones ignored by others as they cross to the other side. If you follow Jesus, that really isn’t an option.
Father we pray that you would draw us into a deeper relationship with you, may we love you more and may we learn to love the people that you love. Set us free from our own prejudices and help us to see needs and not labels, we pray.