“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” [Luke 10:25-37]
Jesus shares the parable of the good Samaritan in response to a religious expert’s question of “who is my neighbor?” I love this story because Jesus is so clever here. There are so many little things in this parable that add meaning to the story. I think one of the best things we can do when unpacking the parables is to get as much context as we can. Understanding the perspective of Jesus’ audience can help us apply the lessons of this parable in our daily lives!
The man who had been traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was most likely a Jew. The road he travelled was infamous for being dangerous. Around 18 miles long, it probably took 8-10 hours to make the journey on foot. Jesus’ audience would have known immediately the route Jesus was referring to, and been acutely aware of the potential dangers of that journey. In fact, they probably weren’t surprised when Jesus went on to say that the Jewish man was robbed and left for dead. By anyone in the audience’s standard, the man was in need of help.
The first man to pass by was a Jewish priest. The second was a Levite, or a Jewish worship leader. From a logical standpoint, it would make sense for the religious leaders to help the man. But they kept going. We’ll never know exactly why they overlooked him. It’s easy to imagine the excuses they might have had. “I’m in a hurry,” “What if it’s a trick?” “I hope someone helps that guy” “I’ll pray for him!” “I’m late” etc...
But then this random Samaritan comes around. The Samaritans and the Jews were not friends. At that point in history there was a lot of beef between them. So if anyone, at first glance, wouldn’t be likely to help our Jewish friend, it would be the Samaritan walking down the road. But the Samaritan was moved with compassion. Where the other men overlooked, he saw a need and he met it. I think that’s so important. He saw him.
Not only did he see him, but he went to great lengths to help this stranger. He used his own resources, sacrificed his own animal, and gave up two days wages to put the injured man in an inn so he could recover. He went above and beyond to help someone that he had no obligation for, an enemy by the world’s standard.
What can we learn from this parable? I think there are three main takeaways.
First, Be Engaged. The Levite and the Priest were rushed, speeding through their journey. Sound familiar? How often do we get so caught up in our head that we’re oblivious to the people around us? Think about it. We are surrounded by people everyday—hallmates, friends, classmates, coworkers, employees, other people at Freshley/Wesley. We are exposed to their struggles all the time—loneliness, stress, etc. We can’t notice those things if we have blinders on as we go through our day.
Second, Be Willing. The Samaritan was willing to sacrifice his own time, money, and convenience because he was moved by compassion. I know that as college students we aren’t exactly rolling in extra money, but challenge yourself to think of creative ways to help somebody. Do you have three extra dollars in your wallet? Pay for the person behind you leaving the Tate deck, or bring someone a cup of coffee who is staying up all night to study. Do you have an extra hour in your day? Ask someone how they’re doing, or what they need.
Third, Be Bold. It’s easy to think that our actions don’t have impact, that our surroundings would remain the exact same if we were present or not. Whether you like it or not, your actions, or lack thereof, impact the people around you. Being a disciple of Jesus should move us to action. Be confident in the fact that you have influence, and that you have an opportunity to have a positive influence on the people around you. You are the hands and feet of Jesus! That’s so fun!
God, help my heart to be moved with compassion for your children. Open my eyes to the needs around me, and guide me to people I can actively love. Help me to stay engaged as I go throughout my day. Give me the grace and the boldness to reach out to people outside of my circle if they need it. Show me how to be a good neighbor. Amen.