The Good Samaritan

Written By Susan Hanson

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”—Luke 10: 33-34

Undoubtedly one of the most familiar of Jesus’ narratives—or of any story in the Bible, for that matter—the Parable of the Good Samaritan is nothing short of revolutionary. On one level, it is simply a response to a lawyer who “stood up to test Jesus” by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

As he so frequently did, Jesus replied with another question: What does the law say? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” said the lawyer. Again came a question from Jesus: But what does that mean? Who, exactly, is your neighbor?

Were Jesus physically among us today, he would most likely be doing the same thing—compelling us to define our terms. “Enemy,” “democracy,” “rights,” “terrorist,” “patriotic”—we use these words with little thought to what they mean, and as a result, we end up shouting past one another a great deal of the time.

In typical “Jesus-fashion,” the Parable of the Good Samaritan offers no literal, absolute response. Who is my neighbor? Well, listen to this story. Suddenly, the categories blur.

Writing of this narrative in Hear Then the Parable, Bernard Brandon Scott observes, “As parable the story subverts the effort to order reality into the known hierarchy of priest, Levite, and Israelite. Utterly rejected is any notion that the kingdom can be marked off as religious: the map no longer has boundaries.” 

In short, the traditional roles of “neighbor” and “enemy” are reversed. Moreover, the parable doesn’t end in any conventional, tidy way. “Here the Samaritan is not converted,” Scott writes. “Gone is the apocalyptic vision of ultimate triumph over one's enemies. The world with its sure arrangement of insiders and outsiders is no longer an adequate model for predicting the kingdom.”

To know the kingdom of God as this radical, this unwieldy, this unconcerned with “winners” and “losers” would be unsettling to say the least. But isn’t that just what we need? To be “unsettled,” to be shaken to the core and thus to be set free?

O God, help me to think outside the lines prescribed by language and religion, and to recognize the Christ in all my neighbors, in the stranger as well as the friend.