Jesus responds to that question with a story about a man who was left half dead on the side of the road by robbers. He tells the lawyer that by chance a priest came down the road. Our hopes are raised, but then the priest passed by the half-dead man on the other side. The Jewish listeners must have looked at Jesus full of surprise. Why would a servant of God not stop to help this man in need? We do not get the answer. Next we are told that a Levite also came and saw him. Again our hopes are raised, but again Jesus tells us that this servant of God also passed by on the other side. Nothing in the law prohibited these ministers from helping, yet they walked by. Those listening to Jesus must have been totally surprised—wondering how this was possible.
However, the story has not come to an end. Jesus continues and says: “But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity” (v. 33). At the word “Samaritan” the Jewish audience would think that there was certainly no hope for help now. Samaritans and Jews do not get along with each other; some might say they were each other’s enemies. This has gone back for centuries to a time when Samaria mingled with the occupying nation. They have built their own temple, do not agree on what was considered scripture, and have other conflicts. Jewish people traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem actually avoid traveling through Samaria.
Yet Jesus tells us that this man, this enemy, stopped to help. Furthermore, he made sure that help continued to be available. After he took the injured man to an inn, he left money with the inn keeper so continued help would be given. This is shocking to his listeners. Why would the Samaritan help the half-dead person, but the two ministers would not?
Jesus now poses another question to the lawyer: “Who was really a neighbor to the half-dead man?” Notice that this is not what the lawyer asked. However, Jesus calls the lawyer to action and not to a debate about the definition of “neighbor.” Go, and do likewise.
Parables reflect on the Kingdom of God. We should not expect life in the Kingdom to be based on what things are like in the world we live in. We miss the point if we need to ask who our neighbor is. We are called to show compassion to all people, even those who are not at all like us.
How would you react to the story Jesus shared if the two passing by were Disciples of Christ ministers? Also, how would you react if the one who stopped was one who did not like you or was actually considered to be your enemy, a Muslim, maybe even a terrorist?
As noted, Jesus does not really answer the question posed by the lawyer, but offers instead another question, asking who has shown true compassion. Why would Jesus do this and what is Jesus asking us to do through the telling of this story? Go, and do likewise.
Paul notes in the opening verse of Paul’s letter to the Colossians that all true Christians are brothers and sister one to another. Faithfulness runs through every character and relation of the Christian life. This includes the actions of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. All who have heard the word of the Gospel, ought to bring forth the fruit of the Gospel, obey it, and have their principles and lives formed according to it. Go, and do likewise.