The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of those parables that’s so familiar that we may have been inoculated with a slight case of it that’s preventing us from really getting at the heart of it. I like to say that a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.
The first thing about the context that you need to understand about this is that Samaritans and Jews didn’t get along. So this Samaritan is out of bounds; he’s not in Samaria, he’s in Judea. The second thing to notice about this is that this lawyer would have identified with the priest or the Levite in the story. They would have been his heroes in the story, but they don’t prove to be the heroes of the story. No, it’s the Samaritan who proves to be the hero of the story.
So much was the animus between Samaritans and Jews that as
We were told that the lawyer was seeking to justify himself. He was an expert in the Mosaic law. He wanted to know the limitations of neighborliness. Jesus doesn’t tell a story about who is the neighbor, he tells a story about how to be a neighbor to whomever, whenever, wherever; that’s what the story is about. At the end, you have the punch line; Jesus asks the question at the very end, “And who do you think in the story was the neighbor to that Jewish person wounded on the side of the road?” And you can imagine the lawyer sort of gritting his teeth and saying, well, I guess it was the Samaritan, yuck! Jesus then sticks the knife in, twists it, and says, “Go be like the Samaritan.” This is a story that’s intended to blow up social prejudice between Jews and Samaritans and include within the boundary of neighbor even the despised Samaritans. Here’s a parable that rehabilitates not only the Samaritan but the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.