The Good Samaritan
During Jesus' ministry, He was often riddled with questions from His naysayers attempting to catch Him in either a spiritual dilemma or promoting a false doctrine. Once he was asked, "Is is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" To which, He responded, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?...Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:15-22). Jesus was able to swiftly turn their attempts to catch Him in error into an opportunity to proclaim the truth.
It was on another occasion, "a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" (Luke 10:25-37). There may have been various cultural or contextual backgrounds to the lawyer's question, but it still revolves around the attitude of trying to capture Jesus in a wrong. Jesus' response was simple, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" The lawyer's answer was excellent in quoting from the Old Testament, he clarified the full duty of man was to love God with everything and to love your neighbor as yourself. While still trying to justify himself, he asked, "and who is my neighbor?" It was Jesus' response to this second question that lends to us a great lesson of love for our fellow man and true righteousness in the sight of God.
Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to assist this lawyer's misunderstanding of who was his neighbor. There was a young man making a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers who proceeded to strip, rob, beat, and leave him lying on the roadside presumed to be dead. The first person who approached the scene of crime was a priest. The text is ambiguous to the reason(s) this priest would have passed on the other side of the road, but it seems his perceived righteousness was more important than its application. The second character introduced to the parable was a Levite. Again we find a person excusing his obligation to assist by passing by on the other side of the road. The picture Jesus paints with these first two characters is a composite of the religious identity of Judaism in the first century. As Jesus would later condemn their perceived righteousness by saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:26). These two men wanted the recognition of being faithful to the Lord without having to actually put their faith to the test.
The final character that is introduced in the parable is the Samaritan. The very use of this nationality would have been scoffed at by many of the Jews. How could any Samaritan ever accomplish anything that is good? The Samaritans were considered dogs and treated as such by much of the Jewish population. When Jesus was sitting by Jacob's well and a Samaritan woman came to draw water, He said, "Give me a drink" (John 4:7). Her response solidifies the feelings between the Samaritans and Jews - "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" To which John gives us a parenthetical statement - "For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (John 4:9). Therefore, Jesus' use of a Samaritan in His parable was to give contrast to perceived self-righteousness of the priest and Levite with the true righteousness manifested by the Samaritan.
The good Samaritan serves as a great example of our accountability toward our neighbors. The young man was probably not the Samaritan's "literal" neighbor, but he was a man in desperate need and without the help of the Samaritan he would have certainly perished along the roadside. The Samaritan demonstrated true righteousness by cleaning and binding the man's wounds and then paying for his room and board during his recovery. If we were to put 21st century costs into the story, this may have been entire savings spent to save a complete stranger. Would we be willing to do the same in our lives?
The good Samaritan found this young man at the brink of death and by his help and time for recovery brought him back to life. The Samaritan did not excuse himself from doing the right thing as had the priest and Levite. What became more important to the Samaritan was not the appearance of perceived righteousness, but rather true righteousness being manifested through his actions. If we are not careful we may play the part of the priest and Levite far too often in our lives. We become more concerned about the appearance of being righteous than its true manifestation in our lives. The full duty of man is to "love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). How are we doing in this respect of our lives today?