Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Good Samaritan Parable ...

The Good Samaritan Story explained

I've commented on this briefly in the past, but I am in the middle of a discussion where its relevant, so I wanted to go into some more detail about it. The site I link at the top of this provides and excellent base interpretation of this parable, and while it is by no means the only lesson Jesus gave us, it is one of the most direct and important. Before going in, we need to point out that when Jesus speaks, especially in the 4 Gospels of His life, he uses example VERY specifically. When he omits something in one portion that is explicitly stated elsewhere, that omission is important. Likewise, when he specifically includes something that is omitted elsewhere, the inclusion is very important.

From Luke ...

30. Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead.

31. "And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32. "And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33. "But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,

34. "and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35. "And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.'

This is one of Jesus' most compelling lessons. In it, He combines much of His teaching, His philosophy, and he makes the point that action speaks louder than words, that acts have supremacy over belief or faith. Jesus chose his examples very carefully, and the three men in this parable are not randomly chosen by any stretch. The choice of a priest and a Levite as the first two men is telling because both are men of the Book, closely related to Temple life, to the belief and faith of Jesus time. The choice of the Samaritan complements the first two, by providing Jesus with a man not of the Book, not part of Temple life, not part of the Hebrew society at all, an outsider who is quite literally a Heathen. The Samaritan does not believe what Jesus does, has not learned what Jesus has, and does not worship as Jesus does, and he is chosen by Jesus for this parable precisely because of those qualities.

In the story, the priest and the Levite walk by the fallen stranger, refusing to help him. By excluding them as his neighbour, Jesus clearly tells us that faith is meaningless without proper action. Without the reality of acts, the abstractness of faith is meaningless. The faith of the priest is not enough to make him a neighbour in Christ. The Samaritan, on the other hand, stops to help the fallen stranger, spending his own money without repayment, using his own time to make arrangements. By declaring the Samaritan a neighbour in Christ, Jesus shows us that it is his acts which promote him to that level, and nothing else.

If Jesus had meant to say that faith and acts go hand in hand, then the third man in his example would have been a pious priest or Levite who understood the value of helping others. Jesus would have chosen someone of the book to demonstrate that acting rightly isn't sufficient ... thinking rightly is also required. But Jesus hasn't done that here ... in fact, He has down the opposite. He has elevated someone considered NOT of the faith to the status if neighbour in Christ, while specifically chastising people of the faith for not behaving in a faithful manner.

In the Good Samaritan, Jesus sends us a clear message that it is through helping the stranger who has fallen among thieves that we become a neighbour in Christ. We don't do it through faith, we don't do it through belief, we do it through simply helping the stranger who has fallen among thieves. His characters were clear, the story direct and compelling, and yet people seem to ignore the central point ... believe whatever you want, but if you do everything you can to help that man, fallen among thieves, then, and only then, you WILL be a neighbour in Christ. I am happy to take Jesus at his word, that its about helping the man who has fallen among thieves, and nothing more.


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