A “good” Samaritan?

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 9, 2018

We have warm, fuzzy feelings at the mention of “good Samaritan,” but this was far from the case in Jesus’ day. 

The Samaritans were a mix-race people who were despised and hated, especially by the Pharisees. When Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan, he was not practicing rules from the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” — Jesus may as well have been practicing the rules on how to make enemies.  

Telling of the story of the Samaritan infuriated the law-abiding Pharisee, but also left the disciples fearing for their lives. A parable about a Samaritan, and a good one at that, was the last thing anyone wanted to hear.

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Jesus tells the parable in response to the question, “who is my neighbor?” which in itself was a response to the question “how do I inherit eternal life?”. 

The parable describes how a Samaritan aids a stranger who was beaten by robbers and left by the roadside to die. Jesus holds the Samaritan up as an example of someone who demonstrates compassion and love of neighbor.   

Jesus went even further to infuriate his audience by contrasting the Samaritan’s compassion with the actions of two spiritual leaders, a priest and a Levite, whose indifference to the suffering man is displayed by their “walking by on the other side.” 

We can only wonder how Jesus might retell the parable to convey the same message today as it did when he first told it. Perhaps the modern title would be “the Good Muslim” or “the Good Immigrant,” or maybe the “Good Republican,” or the “Good Democrat.”  

If we replace “Samaritan” with the name of someone or some group we hold in contempt, perhaps the original message of the parable will become a living experience.

The Rev. Ernest Mills, Thermal Belt Unitarian Universalists Fellowship