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Replay: Jesus, why do you want us to be like a Samaritan?

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in love, scripture | 7 comments

Replay: Jesus, why do you want us to be like a Samaritan?

Six years ago, I wrote a post called “Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?” I think that out of the thousands of posts that I’ve written this is one of a handful that I would consider my favorites. Of course, it’s based on the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” While we often think of the Jew/Samaritan schism as one of ethnicity, it’s also about theology (and perhaps primarily about theology). Yet, when Jesus wanted to teach about love – which he had just said was the most important command of God – he used a Samaritan as a positive example. There could be more than one lesson for us in that “Good Samaritan” story…


Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God. The second greatest commandment, which is like the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

But he [a lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV)

This is a sweet, little story that we tell to our children in order to motivate them to take care of people. But, as I was thinking through some of the comments to my post “All people will know that you are my disciples…“, this parable kept coming to mind. Specifically, I wondered, “Why would Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the good example?”

Yes, I know the standard answers: Samaritans and Jews did not get along with one another, so the Samaritan demonstrated love to someone who he was not expected to love. (Notice, for example, that the “lawyer” even refused to speak the name “Samaritan” instead calling the man “the one who showed him mercy”.) This is a great lesson. But, is that the extent of Jesus’ lesson?

Who were the Samaritans? This is how the wikipedia article on the Samaritans begins:

The Samaritans (Hebrew: שומרונים‎), known in the Talmud as Kuthim, are an ethnic group of the Levant. Ethnically, they are descended from a group of inhabitants that have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. The Samaritans, however, derive their name not from this geographical designation, but rather from the term שַמֶרִים (Shamerim), “keepers [of the law].” Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, a religion based on the Torah. Samaritans claim that their worship (as opposed to mainstream Judaism) is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

[Note: Since originally writing this post, the wikipedia article has changed. However, the basic information is the same.]

Notice that the Samaritans were different from the Jews with regard to ethnicity, but they were also different from the Jews with regard to beliefs. The Jews thought that the Samaritans held to incorrect doctrine, while the Samaritans thought that the Jews held to incorrect doctrines. They were separated by both ethnicity and beliefs.

Adding this to our understanding of Jesus’ parable, I find it remarkable that Jesus used a Samaritan to demonstrate God’s true love. Emphatically, Jesus has both a Levite and a priest pass by the injured man without stopping. Remember, the Levites and the priests were responsible for guarding the true faith of Judaism. They were responsible for taking care of the temple and the sacrifices. Jesus himself seemed to agree with the Levites and priests with respect to beliefs. So, why did Jesus not use one whose “doctrine” is correct to also demonstrate God’s love? Or, to ask this in a contemporary way, why did Jesus choose a heretic as an example of love? Could it be that the Samaritan’s love demonstrates that he understands (knows) God better than the Levite or priest?

Belief is important. Teaching is important. Doctrine is important. But belief, teaching, and doctrine separate from an active demonstration of the love of God is not truly from God. Could it be that God is more pleased with “doctrinal deviants” who nevertheless love others than he is pleased with “orthodox believers” who do not show his love?

In other words, could it be that what we say we believe is not a good indication that we are disciples of Christ? Could it be that how we live is a better indication that we are followers of Christ?

Now, please do not misunderstand the purpose of the post. You can call me “soft on doctrine” if you’d like, but it would only show that you don’t know me. I am not suggesting that we stop studying Scripture. I am not suggesting that we stop discussing the meaning of certain difficult passages. I am not suggesting that we stop developing theology. Instead, I am suggesting that these activities are worthless if we do not live what we believe at the same time.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan understood this, while neither the Levite nor the priest understood it. Perhaps it is time for us to associate with the Samaritan – who correctly demonstrated God’s love – instead of the Levite and priest – who only had a correct system of beliefs without demonstrating God’s love.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-4-2013

    Lovely post, Alan, and one that should make us all think carefully about what we do when we are not ‘at church’ (or even whether we can be ‘at church’ at all, and if so what that means).

    We are called to be salt and light, we are called to love, and the Samaritan in the parable lives that salt, light and love to the full.

  2. 5-4-2013

    man made labels that are used to define, end up dividing. if I look upon my fellow man with ‘labels’ its much easier for me to judge, or to look the other way (not His Way). if I look upon my neighbor as a brother/sister, a child of God then my compassion is fueled by His love.

    I do believe this is our day of judgement, are we not before the Throne of grace? we love grace when its coming our way, Christ’s Way is of grace and truth(doctrine, theology)

    I agree Alan this is one of my favorite posts of yours, thanks!

  3. 5-4-2013

    Very interesting Alan. A Samaritan back then would almost be the equivalent to a Jehovah’s Witness now, and Jesus made him the hero. Most Christians treat these people like lepers, however, Jesus embraced the leper of His day, literally and figuratively. The simple act of Christ embracing such people is an extreme act and example of His Love. Love trumps correct doctrine.

  4. 5-4-2013

    I was just thinking the same thing. What if Jesus spoke this parable to us today and mention a JW, Mormon or even a practicing pagan in place of the Samaritan? The point of the parable is not that the Samaritan is better or more doctrinally correct than the priest and Levite, but that this is what showing love to one’s neighbor is about. If a worldly person knows and does good, what does it say about the saved who don’t?

    (It’s interesting to me that Jesus didn’t word the parable the other way around, where the Samaritan was beat up and the priest or Levite helped him. That also would have been a good example of showing love to one’s neighbor… but perhaps it would have been less believable.)

  5. 5-4-2013

    Belief is important. Teaching is important. Doctrine is important. But belief, teaching, and doctrine separate from an active demonstration of the love of God is not truly from God. Could it be that God is more pleased with “doctrinal deviants” who nevertheless love others than he is pleased with “orthodox believers” who do not show his love?

    Yes Allen, I do believe so. Excellent take on this parable!

  6. 5-5-2013

    Alan, you said, “these activities are worthless if we do not live what we believe at the same time”. I call this the Primary and the Secondary relationship. An example is the man who never forgets his wife’s birthday or their anniversary, but he is running around on her at the same time. Without the Primary(fidelity), the Secondary(remembering anniversaries) has no value. In the case of the Samaritan, correct doctrine and practice have no value without Love. Scripture adds that it is only irritating noise. In another place it says Love covers a multitude of sins.
    Jesus, speaking to the Bible experts, said, “You diligently study the Scriptures (Secondary) because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me (Primary).”
    In my blog, I want to encourage people to read and study the Bible. But in the opening articles, I point out that Bible reading/study, as important as it is, is not in God’s Top Ten.
    One reason I’m glad you are writing these articles is that you always bring us back to the main thing.

  7. 5-5-2013

    It’s almost as if Jesus was serious when he said that loving God and loving others were the two most important commandments…