There is an edge to this parable we often overlook in our hearing of it. We have come to know “Good Samaritans” as do-gooders to strangers or as caregivers to those who could otherwise not afford the help they need.
Even in secular society, those with no church connections know what a “Good Samaritan” is. We have “Good Samaritan” laws to protect those who voluntarily help someone in distress or in an emergency. Hospitals, insurance companies and other ministries name their organizations “Good Samaritan” as a familiar way to communicate their mission of helping others. The church I grew up in has a “Good Samaritan” truck that delivers donated furniture to families in need. We equate the term “Good Samaritans” with helpers. Being a “Good Samaritan” is a virtue we strive to teach and grow into as people of faith.
This was not the understanding many of Jesus’ contemporaries had of Samaritans in his time.
Animosity between Jews and Samaritans ran deep in the time of Jesus. Differences in ethnicity, theology, worship, culture, language and geography kept them separate from and suspicious of one another for centuries. Jews traveling from Galilee to Judea (or Judea to Galilee) often would intentionally go the longer way around than take the shorter journey through Samaria just to avoid interaction. The same was true of Samaritans. Samaritans stayed away from Judea too. That a Samaritan was even on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho begs the question, “What was a scum sucking loser like that doing there anyway?”
That a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead on that road by bandits is not a surprise. It was a dangerous road in a desperate time. That the religious people – (a priest and a Levite) didn’t stop to help isn’t that surprising either. Even without the context of who they were and what they represent – think of the countless people we overlook or walk on by for all kinds of reasons.
“But a Samaritan” Jesus says (Luke 10:33).
This scum sucking loser stopped, helped, healed, hosted, empowered, paid, waited and returned.
This Samaritan is the least likely hero because he is a scum sucking loser not be trusted. Not only does he help someone in need, he acknowledges the humanity in “the other” who from his perspective was not to be trusted either. Yet he stopped and acted out of compassion and love rather than fear, blame and prejudice or hate.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says (Luke 10:37).
This story points the lawyer (and us by extension) to ask “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The common response is to encourage us to become better do-gooders who are actively seeking to make the world a better place by paying attention, seeing things anew, stopping, helping and building relationships with those we might otherwise overlook in a world filled with suffering and pain.
This story also pushes us much further than those really important ways of putting our faith into action. It also challenges us to ask what we might learn about our shared humanity from those we despise the most. It was after all, an out of place, far from home, scum sucking loser Samaritan that took the risk to stop on that dangerous road to help his neighbor in need…not anybody respectable we might like or aspire to be.
-Who are you afraid of? Why?
-Wouldn’t it be a great surprise to learn from a Samaritan, not just what to do when we are not sure where to start, but that the person we hate or fear is our neighbor too?
-What if good news kept coming unexpectedly to us through scum sucking losers like that?
-What might Jesus show us about each other as we all travel this road together?