The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In this series, we are taking an in-depth look at some of the Parables in the Bible. These short illustrations are spread across both the Old and the New Testament and used everyday examples to reveal the Heart of God to its listeners. We will try to understand the context behind these parables, the truth hidden in them and how it all applies to us.

We start the series with one of the most beloved Parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Found only in the Gospel of Luke, this Parable on the surface might seem like a tale of brotherly love but it has a deeper message behind it.

Context

Jesus had sent the disciples on two missionary journeys. One where He had sent the twelve to the lost sheep of Israel and later when He sent seventy-two others two by two, evidently to the Gentile regions. Before these expeditions, the disciples would have thought that Jesus had come only for the Jews but slowly they realised that the kingdom of God was open to all. Luke places the parable of the Good Samaritan right after the joyous return of the “seventy-two”. Now the Pharisees and the teachers of the law would frequently send their representatives to test Jesus and try to catch Him breaking their laws and traditions.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 10:25 (NIV)

Jesus put the question back to the expert asking Him what did the law have to say about it. He replied quoting the same two laws that he must have heard Jesus mention on another occasion (Matthew 22:37-40), love God above all and love your neighbour as yourself. This proves the ulterior motive with which the expert of the law came to Jesus as he already knew the answer that Jesus would give and quickly fired back with a follow-up question.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:29 (NIV)

In response, Jesus narrates a Parable of a man who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by a band of robbers who had stripped him bare, stole all his possessions and left him half-dead by the roadside. The descent from the hill city of Jerusalem to the lower valley of Jericho was roughly a seventeen-mile rocky road journey. With no alternate route and sparse foot traffic, this route would have been a prime hunting ground for dacoits and robbers to easily loot the oblivious and isolated travellers.

Sometime later a priest and a Levite, who were countrymen of the wounded man, came along that road only to pass by the fallen man without offering any assistance. But Jesus uses one of Israel’s rivals to bring out His point, as it was a Samaritan who stopped and poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds. The Samaritan took the half-dead man on his donkey to a nearby inn and paid for all the expenses to nurse him back to health.

The Hidden Truth

The purity laws were strictly followed by both the priestly clan and the Levites who assisted them in service. Attending to the wounds of the half-dead man would have temporarily disqualified them from their respective services at the temple altar especially if the man was dead. There was also a risk of they themselves being robbed while assisting their wounded countryman or they feared that this could all just be an elaborate setup.

Jesus was narrating this parable amongst Jewish crowds which would have also had the temple leaders and the Pharisees present. The expert of the law, himself was an avid follower of the laws and would have given the utmost priority to its adherence in his life. By using the examples of the Priest and the Levite Jesus was exposing the flaws in the Jewish community which was blindly following the laws without understanding the Heart of God behind the very same laws. They did the same with the Sabbath. The laws which were meant to support their walks with God were now making them handicapped by giving them a false sense of security.

None of them there would have seen the twist coming as the Samaritan turned out to be the one who helped out the fallen traveller. The Jews despised the Samaritans and for them even visiting a Samaritan village would deem one unclean, much less interacting or associating with one. Jesus had Just sent the seventy-two to the Gentile regions and was now enlightening His audience on the inclusion of all races and nations in God’s redemption plan.

On the surface, the moral of the story seems to be as simple as doing good by everyone as everyone is our neighbour. But Jesus’ parable often had two separate audiences, the crowds that He narrated them to and the other were the disciples. The disciples were in the background listening to these parables that puzzled them too and Jesus would explain these to them when He was alone with them. So this Parable was for the disciples as well as much it was for the expert of the law who had asked the initial question.

The disciples were being groomed to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. Being brought up in Jewish communities, the disciples would have also harboured the same sentiments towards the Gentiles. Perhaps this is why Jesus often would praise the faith of the non-Jewish followers who came to Him, in the presence of His disciples. The disciples were going to be at the aid of the fallen travellers in the journey of life and would tend to their wounds by the blood of Christ that was poured out for all the nations.

Application

This parable challenges us to question our own deep-rooted hostility towards a particular group because of what our religion or our ancestor have embedded in us. He heals us by His blood which covers all the wounds, scars and hurt that this world can inflict on us. Christ died for everyone and not only for chosen few and asks us to love all His creations in the same way that we would love ourselves.

The other aspect is how the Samaritan brought back the wounded man from the valley of the robbers to the comfort of an inn where he was able to recuperate. He did everything he could to ensure that the wounded man would be healthy again. Jesus gives us the opportunity to do the same in the lives of the fallen travellers in our life. He has put fallen travellers along our path. Will we be like the Pharisee and the Levite and ignore those fallen travellers or like the Samaritan, are we doing everything we can to bring those wounded souls from the valley of the shadow of death back into the comfort of His fold?

Questions Discussed

  • How can a Priest and a Levite ignore a wounded traveller?
  • Why did Jesus use the two in His Parable?
  • Was Jesus trying to instigate His listener’s by making the Samaritan the protagonist?
  • What was Jesus teaching His listener’s through this parable?
  • How does it apply to us today?

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