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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Good Samaritan

Many people put a limit on their compassion. They may believe that acts of charity begin, and end, at home. They may be satisfied with giving set amounts of money or time to select causes. But this parable below teaches that compassion is not something that can be switched on or off.

The Samaritan could have felt justified in continuing his journey once he had dressed the victim’s wounds. Instead, he took him to an inn and paid for his stay.
Compassion, which literally means “suffering with”, is a state of being that gives people the capacity to respond to anyone in need, irrespective of their nationality, creed, race or colour.Jesus consistently tried to put across this message during his ministry. Beggars, prostitues, Gentiles, Samaritans — no one was excluded from God’s loving concern.

A Compassionate Traveller
Luke 10:24 – 37
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, one of the best known of his parables, during a conversation with a lawyer. Luke says the lawyer had asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied by asking him what was said in the Torah, which although often translated as the Law, really means the whole teaching of God. The lawyer said that it called for wholehearted love of God and of one’s neighbour. He then asked Jesus,”And who is my neighbour?” Instead of giving a strict definition, Jesus chose to tell him this story.

A man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by bandits, who robbed him and left him half dead. A priest and a Levite, or temple official, saw him lying there but passed by on the other side of the road. In contrast, a Samaritan — a man from Samaria in northern Palestine, stopped, looked after him, and took him to an inn. It was this Samaritan, Jesus suggested, who acted in the way a neighbour should.

In the ancient world, a line was often drawn between those who were considered “insiders” and those who were “outsiders”. In Israel, for example, it was permissible to charge a “foreigner” interest, but not your “brother”. Who was or was not a brother or neighbour or foreigner, was therefore of some financial importance. Also, at the time of Jesus, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, and Samaritans together shared the land of Israel with the Jews. So the lawyer was probably genuinely curious as to whom Jesus would classify as a neighbour.
The Priest And The Levite

Those who heard Jesus’ story would have recognized the situation described. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous. Jerusalem lies more than 650 feet (200m) above sea level, and the road drops steeply in its 35 mile (55 km) descent to Jericho, which is situated 820 feet (250m) below sea level. The road passes through wild, rocky, unpopulated country. Anyone left badly injured along the way would have had little hope of survival unless help happened to come quickly.
The parable gives no explanation of the priest’s and Levite’s behaviour. They may have feared that contact with a dead body would have made them ritually impure, as the Jewish Law stated. But since they were coming down from Jerusalem, this would not have interfered with their religious duties at the Temple. Luke implies that they deliberately crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the stricken victim. By contrasting this action with the Samaritan’s compassion, Luke makes it clear that it is this quality that the priest and the Levite were lacking.
Jesus’ listeners might have expected the story to contrast the kindness of a Jewish lay person with the two religious figures. Certainly, the mention of a Samaritan would have been a shock to them. Jews avoided the Samaritans and did not regard them as belonging to the chosen people. They were not “neighbours”.
In 593 BC, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom of Judea, and deported the Jews to Babylon. From 538 BC, when the Jews began to return to Jerusalem from exile, they refused to recognize the Samaritans and rejected those who wanted to help with the rebuilding of the Temple. The Samaritans then built their own temple on Mount Gerizim in the north of Palestine.
Jews avoided any contact with the Samaritans. Yet in the parable it was a despised Samaritan who helped the victim, who could be inferred to be a Jew. The Samaritan cleaned the man’s injuries with oil and wine — the customary treatment for wounds. He bandaged the man up, put him on his own mount, and took him to an inn, where he looked after him.
The next day, when the Samaritan had to resume his journey, he gave the innkeeper the equivalent of two days’ pay to look after the injured man. Clearly, the innkeeper felt he could trust the Samaritan, since he took his word that he would be recompensed for any extra expense.
At the end of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer who he thought had been a neighbour to the man who had been attacked. The lawyer said it was the man who had shown pity. “Go, and do the same yourself.” Jesus said. By challenging the divisions between the Jews and Samaritans, Jesus made it clear that anyone who responds to someone in need of help is a neighbour.

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