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Grown-Up Bible Stories

The Good Samaritan

Jesus had just reiterated the Old Testament command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. His hearers were already familiar with this important duty. Still, it was a powerful message, a message that no one could argue with.

Among the audience that day in old Palestine was a lawyer, however. A lawyer was, even then, an expert on exactly what the law said and also on making what it said fit the situation the way he wanted it to. He saw a loophole and went for it. He said: "And who is my neighbor?"*

Actually, we shouldn’t be too hard on that lawyer. Religious people of all times have been tempted to brush aside the parts of their faith that haven’t fit their personalities. Loving the guy across the street as much as oneself has never really fit anyone’s personality. It wasn’t just those hypocritical scribes and Pharisees who had problems with this one. People of every background and persuasion still struggle to live up to the Biblical ideal. Such love is not part of human nature. Only divine involvement can get us past the, "I love you because you’re good for me," attitude that permeates our relationships and fails as soon as those relationships get rough.

The lawyer’s question probably seemed the perfect dodge. He lived in a satisfactory neighborhood. As long as the circle drawn around his house wasn’t too large, the command might be manageable. Maybe he was hoping the limit of his legal neighborhood ended at his own front door. We don’t know how small of section of town he wanted to count as neighbors, but we can see what he was thinking.

Jesus answered with a story. He said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho".* Those who’ve visited Jerusalem tell us that one can only go up to and come down from Jerusalem. It sits on high ground physically and has long been high ground spiritually. This particular man was leaving the greatest city on earth for a place that God’s people had once razed. Jericho no longer labored under the curse of its past, but he was heading away from the best neighborhood our lawyer could have named.

Anyhow, as Jesus explained, the guy got caught by a group of robbers. They beat him, took everything he had, and left him half dead. The terrain was rough. The road was lonely. Cell phones weren’t even a dream at that point in history. There were no police helicopters to track fleeing fugitives or radios to guide officers to the bad guys’ hiding place. The criminals got their loot and got away. It was, as it were, a perfect crime.

But Jesus wasn’t discussing the criminal justice issue. He was thinking about love and the size of the neighborhood. In His story, a priest came along. Priests were the best of the neighborhood. They worked in the temple of God. They knew and taught God’s law. They were experts on that bit about loving one’s neighbor. This priest saw the man lying there and walked on.

Jesus didn’t explain the priest’s motives. Maybe he didn’t consider a guy from Jericho his neighbor. Maybe he feared the man would die in his arms, rendering him temporarily unfit to carry out his temple duties. Maybe he thought himself too good for such dirty work, or maybe he feared the return of the attackers. We aren’t told. We just see him leaving without giving aid.

Jesus next presented another desirable neighbor, a Levite. Levites were what we might call lay ministers today. They worked in the temple. They were religiously sharp. They knew about loving their neighbors. They were a rather safe choice as objects of neighborly love. Nonetheless, the Levite’s response matched the priest’s. He saw a man lying along the trail in his own blood and cleared out.

Enter Jesus’ next character. This man was a Samaritan. He hardly qualified as a neighbor. He was scum. Samaritans were half-breeds from the part of old Israel that had come under permanent foreign domination. They’d changed Biblical religion to suit themselves. They might climb the hill to Jerusalem on business, but spiritually, they didn’t go "up to" Jerusalem. Oh no, they went up to a mountain across the border in Samaria. Samaria definitely wasn’t part of the neighborhood.

Jesus depicted this particular Samaritan as a decent sort, however. He described him stopping, pouring oil and wine into the man’s wounds, and bandaging them. If you don’t like the idea of oil and wine in wounds, think in terms of salves and disinfectants. We might use different chemicals now, but oil and wine represented good medical technology then. He was doing his best.

The Samaritan put this bundle of misery on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he could care for him. Again, we probably wouldn’t think an ancient inn a very good hospital, but people are more likely to get certain infections in today’s scientific hospitals than they are out on the trail too. Then as now, it was a matter of making the best of what was available.

The Samaritan cared for the man through the night and then gave enough of his own money to guarantee that the innkeeper would follow through with nursing care after he left. He even promised to check back next time business brought him to town. He wasn’t just a friend of the moment. He was committed.

Jesus ended his story with a question: "Which of these men was a neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves?" (Not a direct quote)

Obviously, the guys from the preferred neighborhood hadn’t fulfilled the office. The barely legal alien had. The man from Samaria was a neighbor, and the lawyer admitted it.

Jesus’ final answer to the question: "And who is my neighbor?" was simple. "Go, and do thou likewise."


God expects us to love a lot of people—our neighbors, our children, our spouses, even our enemies. Now we recognize that love isn’t necessarily excitement over another person, but love does mean a commitment to that person’s wellbeing. Love might not enjoy a neighbor’s drunken foolishness, but it still does its part to protect him from inebriated misjudgment. Love might not appreciate a neighbor’s messy appearance, but it leaves that neighbor feeling respected as a person. Love might hide from a violent neighbor, but it still desires to find help for that person before he gets himself in trouble.

We talk so big about love, yet too often, we love like the lawyer Jesus told this story to. We withhold our love from those we perceive to be unloving. We profess love for the downtrodden yet leave them to be helped by big organizations. We claim to love our spouses yet pile on hurtful language and compare them unfavorably to attractive celebrities. We all too often have that tendency to make love an abstract, something someone else should exercise.

But Jesus’ words catch us all. His simple "Go, and do thou likewise" puts us in the position of having to care about anybody nearby and in need. His, "Go, and do thou likewise" puts us in our place with the ancient lawyer. God is love, and love must become part of each life that would fully experience Him. The way you respond to the next person you see will be your next opportunity to love your neighbor as yourself.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

* Bold quotations in body of story are taken from Luke chapter 10.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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