The Good Samaritan is such a well known parable from the New Testament that some of our laws are even titled "Good Samaritan" laws. We find the tale in Luke 10: 30-37. The story goes that a man from Jerusalem was robbed. He was also beaten so severely that we read he was near death when he was left by the roadside. As he laid there, other travelers came upon him. One, a priest, sees the man but "passed by on the other side." A Levite arrives next but doesn't stop. Finally, a Samaritan traveler "had compassion" for his suffering. He cleans the man's wounds and dresses them with bandages. The Samaritan then takes the man to an inn and cares for him through the night. As the Samaritan leaves the man at the inn the following morning, he pays the innkeeper, saying, "whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."
The story is generally understood to be a message about helping others, but the context of the parable, as well as the Savior's choice of characters reveal much more. When we begin with verse 25 instead of 30, we understand that the parable is Christ's answer to a question from a "certain lawyer." The exchange began when the lawyer "tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" At first, Christ answered by reminding the man that, as a lawyer, he knows the law, then asked him to recall it. The man responded simply,"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself." But what the lawyer says next speaks volumes. Verse 29 states, "But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, and who is my neighbor?" Here, lawyer seeks to narrow the commandment. He wants to know exactly who qualifies as a neighbor; he wants to defend and justify whom he chooses to love as much as himself.
It is no mistake that in reply, Christ casts religious leaders- a priest and a Levite- as those who pass by the injured man. (In Christ's time, the Levites officiated in the temple.) Nor is it coincidence that He choses the Samaritan, a traditional enemy of the Jews, as the rescuer. Samaritans were the racial and religious "other" in a culture where a Hebrew, or Israelite, is one of God's chosen. The Good Samaritan is the ultimate counter narrative. I believe that with this reversal of roles, Christ is saying three things: (1) Christians are remiss when they overlook or deny the suffering of others, and (2) those at the edge of society are as much our neighbors as those whom we worship with or live near, and (3) we are better, more whole, when we are in proximity to those on the margins.
There are many times in the New Testament that Christ shows his preference for mercy and compassion over convoluted and problematic laws, and other times when He is questioned for associating with publicans and sinners. As a Christian, I have asked myself: How would Christ see this person? How would He have me treat them? What is my role as His disciple in this situation? I often fall short, but I do know this: Christ did not model hate. Or rejection. Or blindness to the conditions of those around Him. And neither should we.