The story about the radical and practical help the Good Samaritan offered the man left half-dead is one of the most popular Bible stories ever told. It is a classic Sunday School story for those who go to church and one that has been used to inspire people to get engaged in their community. While the emphasis of this passage has been placed on the Samaritan due to his ethnicity and culture (which is in opposition to the Jewish culture), I think it is very easy to forget that at the heart of the story is how we treat people. Jesus told this story to show the expert lawyer who wants to justify himself (verse 29) that it was only the Samaritan who treated the man (who was the victim) with human dignity and respect.
In this story are four types of people which I think represent different ways we can treat and see people today. The first is the expert lawyer who prompted the whole discussion. For him the whole subject of loving God and loving our neighbour was an intellectual exercise that only remains at an academic level. While he was vast in quoting Old Testament texts, he was not really interested in people. This fact is reinforced after the whole story when Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10: 36 NIV). His response was, “the one who had mercy on him” (verse 37). The question is who had mercy on the man? The hostility between Jews and Samaritan was so great that this lawyer would not even mention the word Samaritan almost as if it was a taboo. The Samaritan was the least of the people the lawyer would have expect to be the hero of this story. The lawyer’s thoughts must have been, surely the Samaritains were the villains! The lawyers attitude and intellectualism reflects that of some academics, politicans and church leaders today who would like to organise conferences, seminars, symposiums and church meetings to discuss about how we as ‘messiahs’ can fix people’s problems. We pontificate, give talks and lectures to address issues of poverty. We write books and make an academic career all in the name of the poor. The problem is, despite our policies, conferences, books and writings about the subject, we still treat the less priviledged or marginalised not as people but as social action projects that need discussions first before action.
The first set of people that came in contact with the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho was a band of robbers. They were all out to exploit this man and they did that to the fullest leaving him almost dead. They took away his clothes leaving him naked and removing his dignity, beat him up, not respecting him and finally left him alone, isolating him as it were. Today there is a way society can treat people that is exploitative. These could be through human tracfficking, cheap labour of particularly eastern Europeans because they can not speak English and abuse of women and children.
The second person who came in contact with the man left half-dead was a priest. I have been asking myself the question why a priest of God will see someone injured and decide not to help but rather turn the other way as if the person never existed? The truth of the matter is that this priest’s action was informed and motivated by scripture therefore as far as he was concerned he was doing the right thing. He was following the Old Testament which commands that a priest should not be ceremonially unclean by touching the dead (see Leviticus 21:1-4). The question then is, can the priest not at least check to see whether the man was dead or not, considering the man was half-dead? That would have been a risk that could terminate his priestly career because if the man was actually dead that is it for him. If he was not dead, from the priest’s angle that is too much at stake as the man appears dead. The priest represents us Christians who at times think we are doing right by following scriptures but end up still neglecting people. How many times have we walked past a homeless person and thought, if I give him/her money he/she will either spend it on drugs or something unscriptural? Or in another scenario we give money so as to feel good by ticking the box of goodness. Once we have given the money, we can confidently have closure on the matter and move on, whereas, what might be needed is friendship. How many of us can sit down with a homeless person irresspective of the smell and try to be their friend? Can we offer friendship that goes beyond a short service of cup of coffee or money? I am challenging myself with these questions as well as I am no saint.
The next person that came on the scene after the priest was the Levite. To be honest, I am not sure we can expect any better from this Levite as he would have been bound by the same law of the Old Testament as the priest. He at best saw the man as an object of curiosity. At worst, he did not make any effort to remedy the man’s situation. There are times as Christians that our silence or inactivity could lead to other people suffering. How many times have we seen or witnessed the stigmatisation of immigrants as scapegoats or racism at work place and did nothing?
At this stage in the story, the lawyer must be expecting Jesus to mention a lay Israelite as the champion of the story and then perhaps continue the argument to justify himself, but what came next must have been a big shock to him. A samaritan! That is like mentioning a terrorist saving lives! The lawyer’s ego and pride must have been deflated. The Samaritan was the only person who saw the man as a whole person to be cared for and spend time and energy on. Immediately he had compassion which in the Greek is the same word used when Jesus saw the four thousand people and fed them (Matthew 15:32). The Samaritan administered immediate remedy as well as long term friendship. The immediate action was treating the man’s wounds so that he will not die from bleeding (see verse 34). He then took the effort of taking the man on the journey with him. The journey led to a destination of care and nurtuting for the man as the Samaritan took him to an inn. The story implies that the Samaritan also stayed overnight still caring for the man. He also paid for the services out of his own money that which would have been his two days wages. Finally, he left with an assurance of coming back and picking up any outanding bills (see verse 35). There is a lot to learn from the Samaritan about how we treat people who are marginalised or less priviledged than we are. Here we learn that we can offer short term as well as long time frienship and not just throwing money at people. The key here is to be prepare to go the extra mile with people. This will always cost us something whether it is our time, money or friendship. Let us see people the way God intended them to be seen so that we can offer something that will last and not a cheap solution.