Just the title of this story should make you feel a little uncomfortable. What I want to attempt is a modernization of the Good Samaritan parable. We are so used to thinking of the Samaritan as good, that we often drop the adjective. Why bother re-stating the obvious? We know the Samaritan is the guy who helps the poor sick man when nobody else does. Samaritans are good. We don’t need to say “Good” Samaritan because Samaritan itself is synonymous with “helpful”.
But if you have a Bible that adds in titles, it will most likely say “Good” Samaritan. Why? Because when the story was told, Samaritans were not considered part of the Kingdom of Israel, a “good” Samaritan would be unusual. They were a mixed race of Israelites from the old Northern Kingdom and Assyrians that had taken over the area. Their religion was also mixed. This is not a simple story of a few people being too busy to help a man in need, then one comes along and does help. Examine a little closer just who passes by and it becomes more obvious just who Jesus is attempting to make comments about. If you take those old descriptions of the people in the story and transfer to today’s common terms, the story becomes relevant again.
It would go something like this:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test his spiritual leader. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to find happiness and comfort and the respect of my fellow human beings?"
"What is written in the wisdom of he ages?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: " 'Love all that there is with all your heart and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," the spiritual guide replied. "Do this and you will live."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked the guide, "And who is my neighbor?"
In reply the guide said: "A man was going down from Central Park to the Financial District, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A televangelist happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a member of your congregation, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Mexican, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on calamine lotion and cortisone cream. Then he called a cab, took him to a hotel and took care of him. The next day he took out two Benjamins and gave them to the hotel clerk. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
The spiritual leader told him, "Go and do likewise."
Does it seem that I just replaced the names of priest, Levite and Samaritan with modern names and made my own political statement? Maybe, but why did Jesus choose the characters of priest and Levite as the ones who pass by the man, acting in a most un-neighborly way? Jesus came to die for our sins, but he did much more. He changed rituals that had been celebrated for centuries. The Passover, a celebration of God passing over the houses of the Levites and sparing their first born in the time of Moses, became the Last Supper, Good Friday and the most important week in the Christian calendar.
In the Old Testament, Moses instructs the Levites to kill 3,000 men, women and children because they broke one of the rules of a covenant that they hadn’t even been told of yet. Jesus is saying it is time for those who consider themselves special, separate and better to take a look not at their heritage, but at what they are doing. When they see people showing mercy, go and do likewise.