Jesus taught his disciples, and all others who came to hear him, using simple stories – parables – that, despite being simple and relatable, also tended to shock those who heard them.
Jesus uses the story of the Good Samaritan to teach his fellow countrymen, the “Chosen people,” about the salvation God offers to all, and what is required of those who seek it.
This familiar story therefore teaches important Truths, both for those who first heard it, and even for us, today.
Jesus is asked by a lawyer/scribe what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus immediately directs his attention to the moral Law of the Hebrew Bible, and the questioner recites, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
When the lawyer went on to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do the same.”
The story was shocking because the “hero” of the story was an outcast, someone in the land of Samaria who wasn't part of the “in” class of Judea. And yet, this despised Samaritan knew enough of God’s Law – His Will for our lives – to treat the traveler in distress in a holy and humane manner.
Today, many who feel themselves part of the “in” class feel no requirement to help those they walk by, along the highway of life. By reciting a prayer, or a creed, they believe themselves to be “chosen” or the “Elect of God,” considering themselves “saved” and “heaven-bound.” They believe themselves to be released from Jesus’ call for us to do Good Works, which they see as unnecessary for their eternal salvation.
But Jesus disagrees with this approach to eternity and Works, as his answer to the lawyer shows.
Jesus calls on us to follow God’s Moral Law with our actions, not just vain words of “Lord, Lord,” walking by those in need with cold indifference.
Jesus instead would have us actively do Good Works as an example and light to the world.
We are called upon by Jesus to, “Go, and do the same.” To “Go” and “Do” are the two most powerful lessons Jesus ever taught. In fact, he repeatedly calls on those who follow him to action: to love and serve others, to deny ourselves, to seek to do righteousness, and to build on solid rock of Righteous action.
And because we have the example of a human being, Jesus, we know we are capable of doing all that God asks us.
Picking up a cross, going the extra mile, expanding our 'talents' to serve others, and being the Good Samaritan cannot mean a life of leisure and ease. It is a call to action.
The Samaritan is the hero of the story – rather than the priest or the Levite – because he took action to help the man in need. He viewed the man, this stranger, as his neighbor, and as a child of God, who was worthy of being helped. Jesus tells us God wishes us to love others in the same way. “Go, and do the same.”
The Gospel of Jesus is not simply to have a belief in him, it is to serve God, to follow Jesus, and to love others just as we love ourselves. His teachings call us to serve and to act, not to sit in vain contemplation of the acts of Jesus, nor to simply admire Jesus, nor even to worship him from afar.
The message of the Good Samaritan is that we are to be the hands and words and comforting arms of God's Kingdom here on Earth. We are called by Jesus to be a People of God, like the Good Samaritan who comforts others alongside the road of life who are distressed, and do so in the name of God's Anointed servant, Jesus.
Picture: The Good Samaritan by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-60