A Surprising and Significant Twist in the Good Samaritan Story Most People Never Notice

When Jesus told an inquirer that if he would ‘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’ he would have eternal life, the inquirer asked: ‘And who is my neighbor?’

This sets the occasion for Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which is so familiar to all of us. It is so familiar that most of us can do a pretty good job of repeating the story in detail. Yet I think there is an aspect to the parable most of us completely miss. I missed it myself for 30 years until I read a book that pointed me to this insight.*

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan – wpclipart.com

The Story of the Good Samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan, which is Jesus’ answer to the inquirer’s question, ‘And who is my neighbor?’, is found in Luke 10. Here is the story in its entirety.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 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.’

Then Jesus asks the inquirer,

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

Of course, the inquirer answers that it is ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ (the Samaritan). So far, the story is very familiar to us; we have heard it perhaps hundreds of times. And the lesson we draw from it is that those whom we should love as our neighbors include people we would not ordinarily consider our neighbor—people outside our personal tribe. For, as we all know, the Jews did not hold Samaritans in high regard.

This is a good lesson on loving others. But there is a twist here I think we should also consider.

The Significant Hidden Twist to the Story

The story of the Good Samaritan addresses the question, ‘Who is the neighbor I should love as myself?’ In other words, ‘Who lies within the scope of those I should love?’ And the answer we usually derive from the story is that we should love the Samaritan, a person that Jews ordinarily despised; Samaritans were mixed descendants of Israelites who held substandard, corrupted, even heretical beliefs.

When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, the Samaritans (remnants of the Northern Kingdom) offered to help them rebuild, but they were rebuffed as impure heretics. The rejection of the Samaritans by the Jews, and the resentment of the Jews by the Samaritans, continued to Jesus’ time.

So it seems we should love even those whom we feel are beneath us; those who are mistaken in their beliefs and impure in the practices. This is a good answer, but it is not what the story says.

The Samaritan does not represent one who reaches down to show love to those beneath him. The Samaritan shows empathy, compassion, and care to a person who normally would look down on him and despise him; in fact this Jew was an oppressor. Yet the Samaritan, with a heart of love, showed empathy, compassion, and care for his very oppressor—apparently because he saw him simply as a human in distress and need.

Note that the question is ‘Who is the neighbor I should love?’ But in the story, the ‘neighbor’ is not the one who received love but the one who demonstrated love. It turns the question completely around.

I don’t know that Jesus intended this secondary message, but the story indicates that those we must love as we love as ourselves include those who oppress us—even our enemies. It is not just a case of the privileged showing love for the lower masses, but a case of showing love to those who look down on us, judge us, and disparage us—those who might even be the very people who dis-empower us.

So love does not just flow downward; love flows upward. In other places Jesus actually says we must love even our enemies, and at points he specifically has in mind the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. If Jesus expected the Jews to love the Romans as they loved themselves, then there can be no limit, nor exclusion, for those we should love.

Let us consider again the inquirer’s question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ or ‘Who lies within the scope of those I should love as myself?’ We might rephrase this last question as ‘Who lies outside the scope of those I should love as myself?’

The answer is no one. There is no one for whom we should not show love as the Samaritan did—in terms of genuine empathy, compassion, and care. There are no exceptions. Let us dwell on this and consider how it applies to our individual lives.

* I no longer recall the author or title of this book. If you think you recognize it please let me know.

***

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39 Responses to A Surprising and Significant Twist in the Good Samaritan Story Most People Never Notice

  1. Yet in America we make a choice to choose who we love. Because anyone especially in this time can get Jesus’ love shown to them unless… Gay, Muslim, had/want an abortion, sick, homeless, in prison, of a different hue. And it seems very few ppl who call themselves Christians are willing to do what Deitrich Bonhoeffer or even mother Theresa, because speaking up for whats wrong isn’t as important as judging anothers sin, and helping ppl isn’t as popular as donating to a pastor who promises riches or calling someone a mooch

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Good post ….. I followed a similar theme in my own piece today- our own liberation is bound up in the liberation and salvation of all humanity:
    https://pioneerthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/a-god-fearing-humanist/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Donald John says:

    Amen righteous brother. Jesus says I have come to call sinners to repentance. The Son of man came to seek & save the lost. We must treat the least of these with fervent compassion & charity.

    For the Son of man did not come to be ministered unto but to minister and give his life as a ransom for many.

    Hold tight because the glory train is taking off soon. The Holy Spirit clearly expresses this.

    Judah. Ephraim. All of Israel shall be saved. Ahmein.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Donald, I agree that Jesus came to minister to others and we should do the same. There is no boundary to Jesus’ love that excludes anyone. We should follow his teaching and example in loving others.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      As I recall, it says that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Who are they?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Donald John says:

        Chas,

        The twelve tribes of Israel are the ones whom Yahweh hath bestowed the HolyGhost through believing in Jesus Christ ultimate sacrifice.

        I am Hebrew in spirit & soul. I preach to Jews & Christians alike. There is no Jew nor Greek we are all one in Yeshua the bright & morning star.

        Jesus came to the religious Jews who rejected him.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Chas says:

          But the balance of evidence shows that Israel never existed. There is evidence for that of Judah from the time of Hezekiah, and for Samaria (under the name of Land of Omri), but Israel under Saul, David and Solomon is a fable like that of Camelot under king Arthur.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Donald John says:

            Israel is the only nation which has held her identity through centuries of being conquered & divided. Hebrew is the oldest language in the world. Israel is and always will be.

            Israel is a spirit.

            Like

          • Chas says:

            Hebrew is quite definitely not the oldest language in the world, nor is it the oldest written language in the world. It is not even the oldest written language in the Middle East, since its alphabet evolved from the Phoenician one. The nation of Israel has had an existence and therefore a true identity only since 14 May 1948 (CE).

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Jerry Hessel says:

    I think if someone really and truly loved Donald Trump, not followed or patronized him, but truly loved him like Jesus showed us, you would see a changed man. I see a man starved of love all his life beginning with his father. I see compassion lying just below the surface screaming to come out in the person of Donald Trump.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      Jerry, I agree, Trump is clearly a very troubled man. As for the compassion?

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jerry, I am not sure. Trump is a strong narcissist. I was once very close to such a narcissist who would suck the air right out of the room. Opposing him brought condemnation, but love was also just sucked up–it was not helpful because he thought he deserved that love and MORE–devotion, acknowledgement, and servitude.

      I tried very hard and was never able to reach him. In his arrogance anything other than mental capitulation was unacceptable. I think Trump is similar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, I agree that Trump is a narcissist, but there are clear signs that he is a psychopath, which is not what you want as a national leader, believe me, we’ve had one! However, he made that clear during his campaigning, so the people selected him, under the electoral system in place. However, a majority of the people chose his opponent!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. fiddlrts says:

    A few years ago, I had a bit of an insight on this as well. In context, this is not just about “who is my neighbor?” but “who gets eternal life?” The answer appears to be “the heretic, the impure, the race traitor, the person who you are sure not acceptable to God.” The act of being a neighbor is more important than all the rest of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      The passage is open to several different interpretations. It would even be possible to say that, because the Pharisee and the priest were not good neighbors, they ought not to be loved as we love ourselves, although that would be a perverse interpretation. On reading the passage again, there is an alternative meaning available in ‘as ourselves’, because it could mean ‘the people in our group/clique/church/denomination/religion/country.’

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chas, I agree. We are to love those who are not our tribe; and, Yes, that would include the Pharisees. I like the way you think.

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said, Fiddlrts! I think you are right on target.

      Like

    • noelenesanderson says:

      I suspect that life is forever for everyone? Yet each one reaches the various levels of insight and spiritual progress at varying lengths of time, and numbers of experiences. God does not give up on anyone? Neither, therefore, need we!

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Noel, I think everyone has the potential for life forever, but I think there is also the possibility that in free will there may be some who choose not to live forever in God’s community and therefore cease to exist by their own choice. I have an article on that if you are interested.

        Like

  6. A timely message given our current state of affairs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anthony Paul says:

    WOW!! You all have made me feel so much better about myself by bringing in the fact that, in this scenario at least, Donald Trump is the evil Jew who we all must love. I have spent eight long years feeling guilty about the fact that I felt the same way about Barack Obama but now I see that just as long as I can keep my “strong dislike” of someone and his beliefs within the bounds of a good religious discussion then I can still feel good about being a good christian. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. tonycutty says:

    Revolutionary stuff, Tim. Wonder Whom you learned it from…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. noelenesanderson says:

    I like the post. Anyone can easily love those who love him/her; loving those who hate you is harder. I have heard a parent say that if her son killed someone, she would really hate him. Because she was a Christian – and he would have done something evil, I guess. However, I think those who do wrong need love more than anyone (would God not see it that way?) – because usually they haven’t experienced being loved? Seeing a criminal being led away, one can know that within that soul is the potential for the real person to emerge and behave differently. Loving the essence of each person – the real soul, as God sees them, who created them.
    Thinking of, e.g. 9-11 and such incidents of hatred and attack…..if someone hates you, pausing and being “mindful” means, I think, asking whether you have any responsibility for the cause? e.g. is there anything in the Western lifestyle that causes hatred in the attackers? If there is, is there something we do that is not ethical, spiritual etc., and we should change?
    Everyone, whether they realise it or not, is inextricably linked to the same Source, the One Great SPIRIT of All Life; Therefore we really are all one, and linked to each other! All are learning by cause-and-effect, and will “make it” eventually. I feel people might judge each other because we have been falsely led to believe that God judges. Brownie points for being the same as we think God is??! I feel that God is patiently seeing each one on their journey, knowing each will, in the end, reach the goal (again, after many lives??)!!
    Thing is, ‘loving’ everyone doesn’t mean an emotional attachment! But loving, in the sense of recognizing the true essence, the true soul in each, as God made and sees them – regardless of the appearances at the moment. However, loving does not mean letting bad behavior (children/adults) continue without correction?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good stuff, Noel. I like your sentiment, ” Seeing a criminal being led away, one can know that within that soul is the potential for the real person to emerge and behave differently. Loving the essence of each person – the real soul, as God sees them, who created them.”

      I also think you are on target in saying, ” I feel people might judge each other because we have been falsely led to believe that God judges. Brownie points for being the same as we think God is??!” I think this is very much how many conservative believers feel.

      I would expand on your “‘loving’ everyone doesn’t mean an emotional attachment!” by adding that while loving people does necessarily mean emotional attachment it does involve empathy, compassion, and care.

      Liked by 1 person

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