If you think the lesson of the parable of the Samaritan is that even a Samaritan is my neighbor, you may be missing the main message!
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. We should seek their good just as we seek our own. As we discussed before, to love our neighbor we must first love ourselves, but the question arises: Who is the neighbor we should love as ourselves? In Luke chapter 10, a scholar asked Jesus this question:
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He 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.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers…”
Jesus Tells a Story
You can imagine the listeners crowding around to hear this intriguing story, and thus begins the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know it; a man, presumably a Jew, was robbed, injured, and left half-dead. A priest came by but crossed the road to avoid the victim. A Levite did the same. Then a Samaritan happened by.
We know that Jews, especially scholars, despised Samaritans. Yet in this story it was a Samaritan who stopped to help the victim. Though Jews didn’t take kindly to contact by Samaritans, he manhandled the victim onto his donkey. He did this at considerable personal risk (remember the robbers) and he spent his personal money on the victim’s care.
As Jesus ended the story he asked the scholar,
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
There are Two Lessons in this Story!
Notice, however, that the original question has gotten turned around. The question was: Who is the neighbor we should love as ourselves? We might understand from this parable that the despised Samaritan is the neighbor we should love, and this is true, but there is second lesson here.
The person demonstrating how we should love our neighbor is not the Jewish victim but the despised Samaritan. The neighbor is the victim! So the lesson of the parable is not that we should love those who are beneath us, but rather we should love those who look down on us, despise us, and make our lives difficult.
There are a lot of people like that. In this blog, I often emphasize the arrogance of one such group—religious leaders, past and present, who presume to judge and dictate to common people. This parable shows how we should respond to such hurtful religious leaders: we should love them as we love ourselves.