Good Samaritan loved his neighbor – A true story or a parable?/Alex Hu/Translated by Grace Hu

Good Samaritan loved his neighbor – A true story or a parable?

4-3-2016  Bible Study Interpretation

Art Painting <<Le bon Samaritan>>, 1896, Maximilien Luce 

Alex Hu (Executive Director of Jubilee Foundation for Economic Ethics)

Translated by Grace Hu

Scriptures: Luke 10:25-37

We seldom see a scripture like this one so vividly described in the Gospel of Luke.  It made us look deeply at the extremely high worth of an individual – our neighbor, and the undeniable responsibility to another person.

When we read Luke Chapter 10, we realized what Jesus described could pass only as an exciting parable.  It could actually be a very touching real story, so real even the best lawyer would not question it.

It all began when an expert in the law came to ask Jesus a question that mattered to all Jewish people, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He was trying to test Jesus.

Interpretation was important when you faced a good student of the law, especially if they were self-righteous.  Jesus took the question and asked him back, “What is written in the law?” and “How do you read it?”  It meant “How do you apply it to yourself?”

How to apply the law to yourself?

This expert in the law immediately answered without hesitation, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus applauded and said it was correct, “Do this and you will live.”  Suddenly, the expert in the law felt the need to justify himself, so he continued to ask, “Then who is my neighbor?”

Sensing his lost and argument, Jesus told him a story, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho which was 37 kilometers away.  He fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him off his clothes, beat him half dead, and left him on the road.  A priest happened to go down the same road in the same direction.  When he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So, too, a Levite came (from the opposite direction), and when he saw the man, he also passed by on the other side.”

Jesus looked up at the expert in the law and continued saying, the only one who took pity on the Jewish man was a Samaritan, who was also traveling through. The Samaritan immediately stopped, got off the donkey, and bandaged the man’s wound by pouring oil and wine on it. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to a nearby inn, continuing to take care of him.  It must have been an exhausting night!  The next morning, the Samaritan needed to go on his journey for his other business which was interrupted.  He thought about this Jewish brother who still needed to rest for two or three more days, and he could not simply leave him there.  Instead, he went to the inn keeper, as the injured man was sound asleep, and gave him two silver coins, which equaled to two days’ wages.  This was possible all the money he had with him.  He said, “Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.  I am your regular customer, and you can trust me.”

Jesus then asked the expert in the law, “Didn’t you ask me to whom you can be a neighbor? Which of these three do you think plays a role as a neighbor to that man?”

The expert in the law became red in face, and he hesitantly replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus said, “You, the Jew, do likewise.”

Love others with highest level of love

Guessing the true meaning of this story, we can say it is about a man deserving “love with all.”

Jesus told the story very vividly.  These two cities were more than 30 kilometers apart.  If you carefully study the Bible, you will find that this good Samaritan loved this Jew with all his heart (he took pity on him), with all his soul (he thought through how long this wounded man needed rest), with all his mind (he paid the innkeeper money as assurance to spare further trouble). Isn’t this the highest level of love, the same way to love God, according to the law?  This Samaritan loved this man with the highest level of love, although he himself was despised by the Jew.

The straight route to worship service (green line) and by-pass route through Jericho to worship service (red line) (picture provide by wikki)

Secondly, it took three and half days walking to worship God in Jerusalem from Northern Galilee.  Jesus often walked this straight route.  However, those Jews, who despised the Samaritan area, would take the by-pass route through Jericho to worship God.

This is the route they took: going down to the valley of Jordan River first, then walking to Jericho (which is 200 meters below sea level), making a right turn and going up to Jerusalem (which is 600 meters above sea level).  Total elevation to climb was 800 meters.  It took five days to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem.  They didn’t mind walking one and a half days longer in a very tiring journey, only to avoid the area where the Samaritans lived.  Since there were three festivals a year, they must have walked on this route three times a year to worship in Jerusalem.

Understanding God’s mind and taking actions to change

Did Jesus purposely take this extremely ironic example, which was “The Samaritan loved the man, but the priest and Levite did not”, to teach us a lesson?

No! Then why were there so many religious leaders and Levites shown on this road?  We need to point out that this was a true story during “the season of worship”.  Only during this time of worship with rotational services, the Galilean religious leaders from the north would show up traveling in large numbers.  So they were most likely to be the ones who passed by and saw this injured man in unbearable shape.

Let me repeat it: These people who endured the hardship walking through this route were most religious people!  They truly desired to do the services that they thought to be most religious and pleasing to the Lord.  When the expert in the law finally agreed with Jesus, he was red in face.  He was not willing to say that “the Samaritan” was the robbed man’s neighbor; instead, he called the Samaritan, “the one who took pity on him.”

Since he admitted and understood it, Jesus asked him no more.  We can think about it even deeper.  Man’s value is very high, and we should love each other as much as we love God, which is with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  After we see God’s heart and his glory, isn’t it worthy for us to do so?  Psalm Chapter 8, “—- you made him a little lower than you and crowned him with glory and honor.”  A man’s position is only lower than God himself.  This view can change the priority of many aspects of our contemporary lives, including how to manage money.

These scriptures are a story about loving your neighbor with the highest level of love.  We should never explain it with other implied meanings. For example, we should not interpret the story as these: that going from Jerusalem to Jericho is departing from God, which was why the man was unfortunately beaten half dead; that wine represents the Holy Word, oil the Holy Spirit, Good Samaritan the Christ, priest and Levites the religion; and nor to think that story is telling us, “Religion cannot save a man, only Christ can” etc.  These ideas will certainly strip off all the important lessons about how to love our neighbor.

Even back then, the expert in the law was afraid to rebut, so we believe this was a story very close to reality.  It could easily be an event happened on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, not just only a parable.