It sometimes can be surprising how quickly we become accommodated to an image or phrase. The parable of the Good Samaritan, which is only told in Luke’s Gospel is a case in point. Being a “Good Samaritan” has become synonymous in our culture to mean someone who does a good deed or helps someone in need. In studying the text, I realized, “good” doesn’t actually appear in the text (neither in the Greek). In fact, Luke’s Gospel does not use the adjective (καλός) to describe behaviour or moral quality at all. For example, Jesus talks about “good works” in Mark’s Gospel, but we do not see this in Luke’s. So, it might be good to realise while your Bible may have given the heading as “the Good Samaritan” this isn’t in the actual text.
Pairing “good” with “Samaritan” was meant to be shocking, as Samaritans were the mortal enemies of the Jewish community. The idea that a Samaritan would help would have seemed ludicrous to the Lukan community. For us, with centuries of familiarity behind us, the parable loses its sting. If you are keen, do a quick Google search on art work around the Good Samaritan and you will find artwork stretching back to the 1600s.
So how did the Samaritan get to be called good? Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s question about “who is my neighbour?” The lawyer had just rattled off two of Judaism’s central laws: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (10:27). The Samaritan is the one who acts with love and mercy, to someone who could have been considered his enemy. He treats the man, who has been accosted by a violent criminal, with dignity, respect, care, even providing for his ongoing recuperation. Action in love and mercy has been central to our Christian faith ever since. “Go and do likewise” (10:37).
Yours in Christ,