Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Who is my Samaritan?

It occurs to me that many of Jesus' stories may have lost their edge over the centuries. The good Samaritan comes to mind. You probably know the story. A man gets beat up, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. The religious and respectable leave him there, but it is a Samaritan who helps the unfortunate soul. In fact, the Samaritan did such a kind thing that we have added the adjective good to his label.

We forget how distasteful and abhorrent that story would have been to those listening. The Jewish culture of that time did not think highly of Samaritans; and the deeply religious would have seen them as deceivers and immoral heretics. Samaritans were despised by the dominate religious culture.

In today's world, how would we need to change the labels to grasp the offensiveness of this story? Whom do many of our religious groups despise most? In our case, we would probably need to substitute Samaritan with homosexual. Would Jesus' words be welcomed in our churches if he told a story of how the mega-ministry leader passed by the beaten man, but it was the homosexual who tended to his wounds?

Ultimately, I believe Jesus would have framed the story differently depending on his audience . It is likely that a Jew would have been the protagonist had Jesus told the story in Samaria.

Whoever troubles us most, whomever we despise, the people that cause us the most consternation... that is who would probably be the hero of Jesus' story. The parable puts a spotlight on our darkest corners... but only if we frame it in a context that makes us stumble.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: " '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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."


didymus said...

You make a good point there.

Redlefty said...


Chad said...

How do I post that on facebook? It was awesome! I think you should send that to Sojourners.

Anonymous said...


Very true. This brings to mind St Francis and his loathing of those with leprosy .When his heart changed so did his view of the lepers. The untouchables became very touchable.

I suspect we all have, deep down, types of people we don't like. Years ago I was homophobic and thought it would be a good day if all the homosexuals died.AIDS was what they deserved. I find it interesting and humbling how God has forced homosexual people into my life and forced me to confront my hatred. How often.......God lays the beaten and broken in front of us and says "what are you going to do?"


Bob said...

Bruce, I think I once mentioned on your blog the book, 'Chasing Francis.' I HIGHLY recommend it (to you too, Andrew). It's about a mega-church pastor and his encounter with St. Francis. They probably don't have it at the local library but it's worth ordering on Amazon. It was borderline life changing for me.

Great post Andrew. Very true. Thanks.

Logan said...

There are times I think conservative Christians tend to be the Samaritans of the liberals...minister/author Eric Elnes noted in one of his books we [myself as a member of the liberal camp] often view them as the outsiders...yet I've had reminders in my own life about how they are not the enemy. Interesting twist...I feel a blog coming on! :-)

Andrew said...

Logan - agreed. I think we all struggle with some group. My eye-rolling at the antics of the religious right let's me know where my struggle is. :)

didymus said...


I'm trying to visualize you know who as a good Samaritan right now. The vision isn't really working. He keeps popping up as one of the other characters in that story.

Andrew said...

Heh! Thomas.... Jesus is working on us! ;)

BTW, did you get my email about planning for the March Conference?

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