July 2, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: The Good Samaritan in St. Luke’s Gospel

John F. Fink(Fifth in a series of columns)

Two of Jesus’ best known parables are found only in Luke’s Gospel—the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37) and the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). I will write about the latter in my next column.

Anyone who has been on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho can readily understand how a man might fall victim to robbers on that journey through the Judean Desert. In Jesus’ time, it was foolhardy for someone to take that trip alone; you went as a member of a caravan.

In Jesus’ parable, though, in order to make his point, four people were indeed traveling alone: the man who was robbed, beaten and left half-dead; a priest; a Levite; and a Samaritan.

The priest and the Levite were representatives of Judaism, men who would be expected to have compassion on the man. However, they passed by without caring for him. It was only a hated Samaritan who felt sympathy for the man, dressed his wounds, put him on his own donkey, took him to an inn and cared for him.

Jesus didn’t tell his listeners why the priest and Levite acted as they did, but we can surmise. Perhaps the priest didn’t want to touch blood, which would have made him ritually impure. Perhaps the Levite was afraid the robbers were still around so he hurried on out of fear for his own safety. However, why they didn’t care for the man isn’t important. In the parable, they simply didn’t.

Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of his parable because this was the best way to make his point—that is, the Samaritan acted as a “neighbor” to the victim. Jesus told the parable in answer to the question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29)

The Jews despised the Samaritans. Samaria was a section of northern Palestine along the Jordan River. (Today it is part of the West Bank.) Jews traveling from Galilee to Judea usually went down the eastern side of the Jordan River—in modern Jordan—so they wouldn’t have to travel through Samaria.

Antagonism between Jews and Samaritans began when the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon and found people living in Palestine. They were descendants of Jews who were part of the Kingdom of Israel. After Assyria conquered Israel in 721 B.C., those Jews intermarried with the Assyrians. When the Jews returned from exile in Babylon beginning in 538 B.C., they refused to accept the Samaritans as true Jews. The animosity was still there at the time of Christ. Indeed, it continues today.

Who is our neighbor today? Are we prepared to accept everyone equally despite our differences in race, ethnic origin, religion or whatever? Would we hesitate to help someone in trouble for fear of our own safety? Would we stop to help someone who is having car trouble? Do we welcome immigrants and treat them as needy people without quibbling over whether they are here legally or not?

In other words, are we more like the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable or more like the good Samaritan? †

Local site Links: