Most of us are familiar with the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan pass by a man who has been beaten by robbers. The first two pass by on the other side and the third man, the Samaritan, helps the beaten man. Jesus uses this parable to demonstrate what a good neighbor is. It is a simple enough message, and almost anyone can complete the phrase “The parable of the _____ Samaritan.” It is a common phrase, not only within our faith, but within our culture.
However, I think it is instructive that not a single person who heard this parable when Jesus originally told it would have placed the word “good” in front of the word “Samaritan.” In fact, the words that came to mind would have probably been something along the lines of heretical, foreign, horrible, or enemy. But, mostly, good students of the Hebrew faith would have been very comfortable saying that the Samaritans were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! The very nature of a Samaritan was to be wrong.
When Israel was invaded by the Assyrians, Samaritans were not exiled, but remained in Samaria. Also, when their Jewish brothers and sisters to the south in Judah were invaded by the Babylonians, they were not subject to the exile. Samaritans are Jews, but they only study the Pentateuch. They believed that God’s home was on a mountain with them, not in the Temple in Jerusalem. So, a Samaritan, just by their very existence, was just plain wrong about all the essential tenants of the Jewish faith, at least from the perspective of any good Jew who worshipped in Jerusalem.
It turns out that Jesus was a man of the Temple. He was circumcised at the Temple and he was found teaching in the Temple as a 12 year old boy. Everyone would assume that Jesus would think the Samaritans were wrong, too.
So why is this WRONG Samaritan RIGHT or GOOD in Jesus’ parable? Is it because he believed everything in exactly the perfect way? Is it because he had proven everyone who disagreed with him wrong? Was it because he had history on his side? Well, it was none of those things.
The Samaritan is called good because he treated his neighbor as himself. He set aside all differences and acted out of love for someone with whom he had nothing in common, and with whom he disagreed about just about everything. Jesus takes everything we think we know about what it means to be right in our faith, to be bearers of the truth and light, and turns it on its head.
So, let us all consider who we think we would call “wrong.” With whom would we disagree about just about everything? How would Jesus lead us to act in the midst of all today’s arguing and chaos? What shall we do that Jesus would call good? How will we open our ears (and shut our mouth) long enough to have compassion for another’s perspective?
These are complex times and everyone has a truth from their perspective. How can we move beyond our arguments of whose truth is the truthiest and change our relationships with one another by acting out of love? Let us all commit to asking these questions to Jesus in prayer.
Grace and Peace,