For years, something about Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan puzzled me:
Why is it about a Samaritan?
Like most modern people, I appreciate that Jesus casts a hated minority as the hero of the story. It is a wonderful statement about tolerance, equality, and care for the oppressed. Still, it seemed like an unexpected twist in that particular moment–making me wonder if I was missing a more fundamental reason for its being there.
More recently, something has been pointed out to me:
Though the things listed above probably are part of the reason Jesus chose a Samaritan as his hero, I think there is a more basic reason which has to do with the framing story. We often forget that the parable is told in response to a question from a theological scholar.
When he is told by Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself”, he begins to realize what kind of radical life this would require of him–one that not even the best of us, let alone most of us, can manage. Hoping to get out from under the guilt and judgment of this, he asks “who is my neighbor?”.
It would have made perfect sense for Jesus to then tell a story where a man just like him came across a wounded Samaritan and saved him. That would have answered the question, but failed to have taught him (or us) about grace. It would have been a simple “do it”, a command to be good–just like all commands.
Instead, Jesus has the man bleeding on the road, and his enemy (the Samaritan) up in the saddle. He’s essentially asking him “What if your only hope of survival was an act of kindness from someone who owes you nothing but contempt?”. In framing the issue this way, Jesus shows that he understands the dilemma we each face: no one can radically love others simply by being told that we should. First, we need to know that we’ve been radically loved ourselves.
In this way, he’s getting to the gospel. This, I think, is a call to be grateful for the God who, like the Samaritan, chose to love us when he owed us nothing but wrath. If we can begin to see Jesus Christ as our own personal Good Samaritan, that he radically loved us when we didn’t deserve it, we can begin to do the same for others.