Samaritans are good guys plus a little extra. They’re good guys when even good guys waver. At least, that’s how they’re depicted in the parable from whence our whole notion of “Samaritans” comes. Parables are short, direct stories – fiction – meant to make a moral or religious point. They’re fables – except fables have animals doing the storytelling and parables use only human characters.
Jesus, as we know, taught using parables. At present, 33 parables are attributed to Jesus. Let’s stick a pin in the “authenticity” question for a moment (did Jesus actually exist… did he actually say what the Gospels say he said…?) and agree that the messages contained in quite a few of the parables, when boiled down to their essence, are perfectly good ways to live one’s life.
Hey, who can really argue with “Do unto others”, right? And the notion of mustard seeds growing into bigger things? Whether you’re talking about faith or simply a great idea – the concept works. The parable makes sense. We’re not just saying that to be nice either. We really mean it.
Hey, wouldn’t it be ironic if a podcast about good Samaritans got testy? Spoiler alert – no such thing happens. But you might be surprised how much new information you walk away with having listened to this podcast. Oh… there’s us again — trying to be a good Samaritan again.
Or, if you’d prefer to watch –
NOTES & REFERENCES
From Randy —
I think the best place to start our conversation is with a reading of the story itself. Of course, it was originally remembered and shared through an oral tradition, eventually being written in Greek, the “trade language” of the day, as a part of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Luke. (Mark was probably the earliest “gospel” written around AD 60. Matthew and Luke are next written sometime between 60 and 80 AD.) The earliest manuscript we have today of the story is in the Chester Beatty papyrus, which dates from around 250 AD and was a part of early Egyptian Christianity. (It is interesting to note that the Chester Beatty papyrus is both the oldest New Testament papyrus in existence and the oldest manuscript of any kind in book form (as opposed to pages) in existence today.) It is also interesting to compare the number and date of New Testament manuscripts to other resources. I have two graphs to share showing that information. All of that to say, we have as much reason to trust in the reliability of this story as we do works of Plato, Sophocles and the Illiad. So, without further ado, here is the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37.
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
30 In reply Jesus said: ‘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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] 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.”
36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Now, Alan has some background on the Samaritans and the Jews that has a direct impact on the meaning of the parable:
Key things to note:
-The parable is part of a wider discussion.
-The discussion is between Jesus and an “expert in the law” testing
Jesus With a theological question.
-Jesus and the expert agree on the first Q&A as Jesus replies with the shema and an additional command: love your neighbor as yourself.
-This leads the expert to ask an additional question of Jesus “Who is my neighbor?”
-Jump to the other end of the story (v.36) and we find that question, posed by the expert, reframed and posed by Jesus: ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ This shift in the question is critical to the meaning of the passage.
-The parable takes us from one way of thinking about loving our neighbor to another.
-It does this by telling a subversive story in which the good and the bad people swap positions thus turning upside down the world of the listeners and opening (or closing) their mind to the shift in understanding about “love your neighbor as yourself.”
-Loving your neighbor is not about defining (thus limiting) who you show love to. Loving your neighbor is on you; it is about the quality of relationship you offer to others.
From Alan —
This is one of those episodes where I end up learning way more than I expect. Let’s start with who the Samaritans were. Or, ARE…
Samaritan, member of a community, now nearly extinct, that claims to be related by blood to those Israelites of ancient Samaria who were not deported by the Assyrian conquerors of the kingdom of Israel in 722 bce. The Samaritans call themselves Bene Yisrael (“Children of Israel”), or Shamerim (“Observant Ones”), for their sole norm of religious observance is the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). Jews call them simply Shomronim (Samaritans); in the Talmud (rabbinical compendium of law, lore, and commentary), they are called Kutim, suggesting that they are rather descendants of Mesopotamian Cuthaeans, who settled in Samaria after the Assyrian conquest.
Among the most significant differences between the Samaritans and the Jews is the site which they believe God chose for his dwelling. While the Jews hold that God chose Mount Zion in Jerusalem, Samaritans believe he chose Mount Gerizim near Shechem. After the Babylonian Exile, the Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim, and the Jews built a temple on Mount Zion (see Temple of Jerusalem). This remained a considerable matter of dispute between the two communities, and, in the 2nd century bce, the temple on Mount Gerizim was destroyed by the Maccabean ruler John Hyrcanus (reigned 135/134–104 bce). The low esteem that Jews had for the Samaritans was the background of Christ’s famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).
By the 20th century the Samaritan population dwindled to fewer than 200 individuals, but it grew steadily to about 800 in the 2010s. Only in recent years have men been allowed to marry women from outside the community, although women who marry outside the community remain ostracized. The Samaritans are somewhat evenly distributed between a village on Mount Gerizim, which is also the residence of the high priest, and the city of Holon, where a synagogue is maintained, just south of Tel Aviv–Yafo. They pray in an ancient dialect of Hebrew but speak Arabic as their vernacular; Samaritans in Holon also speak modern Israeli Hebrew.
Now let’s talk “parables”…
I’ve referenced THE JESUS SEMINAR here before and I’m gonna do it again. The Seminar was a group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen founded in 1985 by highly respected biblical scholar Robert Funk. Funk’s goal: to collectively attempt to coax out an historical Jesus from the New Testament texts – documents (not unlike the Old Testament texts that preceded them) not exactly reliable where “historicity” is concerned. But then, historicity wasn’t their point. Thus, the Jesus Seminar applied skepticism and critical analysis to the texts.
Under the aegis of the non-profit Westar Institute, the Seminar used a color-beaded voting system to keep the voting as untainted as possible. The parables the Fellows voted as most likely to be authentic were:
- Leaven (Matt 13:33b, Luke 13:20b-21)
- Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30b-35)
- Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-8a)
- Vineyard Laborers (Matt 20:1-15)
- Mustard Seed (Mark 4:31-32)
Parables the Fellows voted as somewhat likely to be authentic include (partial list):
- Leaven (Thom 96:1)
- Mustard Seed (Matt 13:31b-32, Mark 4:31-32, Luke 13:19)
- Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-9)
- Treasure (Matt 13:44, Thom 109)
- Lost Sheep (Matt 18:12-13, Luke 15:4-6)
- Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11b-32)