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The Great Samaritan Story
Stop me if you heard this one: there is this Samaritan, and he walks into a bar and says, “Is anyone here indebted to the Temple in Jerusalem? If you are, I’ll write you a blank check, just come and see me...the next one is on me.” I know, lame introduction but it’s late and I could not come up with something better.
This article evolved out of a conversation we had here in Dayton on a Wednesday night regarding the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:25-37. -- You should read the parable before you read this article -- That discussion brought to light all kinds of potential layers out of the parable, with the biggest one of them being eschatological in nature, and directly related to our contemporary reality, the Kingdom of God and the place where we are today in relation to our Creator.
The story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10 in my opinion is not as much a parable as it is (as I am hoping to show below) a re-telling of the Creator-mankind relational narrative in a universal context, not necessarily one of the traditional covenantal narratives we usually encounter throughout the Bible. The reason for my approach is simply one that has observed by the early church fathers. When writing on this topic, Jerome said:
Some think that their neighbor is their brother, family, relative or their kinsman. Our Lord teaches who our neighbor is in the Gospel parable of a certain main going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…Everyone is our neighbor, and we should not harm anyone. If, on the contrary, we understand our fellow human beings to be our only brother and relatives, it is then permissible to do evil to strangers? God forbid such a belief! We are neighbors, all people to all people, for we have one Father.
It is interesting to note that for whatever reason, Jerome takes a universal approach to the story. The first and most obvious message communicated by Jesus in Luke 10 is that a true neighbor will help anyone in need, regardless of race, religion and background. This is true and it resonates with the contemporary culture today as much as it did back then. What was a culture of violence, hate and disdain for one another was directly challenged by Jesus through the telling of the parable. What is obviously a pointed jab against the Jewish establishment is the use of a Samaritan as the “good guy” in the allegory.
To the audience, and especially to the lawyer who was testing Jesus, the conclusion forced on him must have been quite an insult. Ever since Ezra’s description of the return from the Babylonian exile (c. 445 BC), the Samaritans and Jews were the worst kind of enemies one could imagine. Once the northerners were refused to being part of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Samaritans responded by undermining the rebuilding process. Samaritan tradition also “accuses Ezra of introducing a new script for the Hebrew letters and altering key scriptural texts, including the substitution of Ebal for Gerizim in Deutoronomy 27:4.” The animosity gradually grew to a point at which by the first century, Jews were convinced that just by traveling through Samaritan land would cause them to be unclean.
But even with all this in mind, the parable seems to have a deeper meaning and relevance to its immediate audience. In a few short sentences, Jesus masterfully develops characters, relationships, and story dynamics, presenting a picture of the abandoned and the oppressed being saved and delivered from evil by another one who is abandoned and oppressed, the Samaritan who was according to Jewish theology denied a right to the afterlife, an who by the very word “Samaritan” was automatically equated with “idolater” in the mind of the Jew.
Even more, there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that the Greek language in which the parable is being presented to us does damage to the story (and the English does worse); as John Welch, a contemporary BYU scholar well pointed out something I overlooked, Luke did not use the typical aner to reference a male in the parable; instead he chose to use the generic anthropos, a reference to a person, or man-kind. Clement of Alexandria picked up on this detail and decided that anthropos is a reference to “all of us.” This could be well supported by the Jewish context in which the story was told, and the likely use of “adam” as the central character of the story does not seem to be an unreasonable possibility.
With this said, the story is now presenting a very powerful typology, which I could not present any better than Origen: “The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience. The beast is the Lord’s body. The pandochium (that is, the stable), which accepts all who wish to enter is the church. The two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the church, to whom its care has been entrusted. The fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming…”
The idea seems to be that “going down” from Jerusalem to Jericho (which is literally 800 some feet below sea level) is a descent into “the abyss” or into death, separation from God’s presence, which is in Jerusalem. The 17 mile journey was dangerous on foot because of robbers and assassinations, but also Jericho was at the time the place where the temple priests and Levites would live while not serving in the temple; Jericho was the first century epitome of religiosity, legalism and simply disconnection from God’s presence. Ambrose reinforces this: “Jericho is an image of this world. Adam, cast out from Paradise, that heavenly Jerusalem, descended to it by the mistake of his transgression, that is, departing from the living to hell, for whom change not of place but of conduct made the exile of his nature…he received a mortal wound by which the whole human race would have fallen if that Samaritan, on his journey, had not tended his serious injuries.”
Since my point is not to discuss the dietary and hygienic rules prohibiting the priest and the Levite from touching the man, I’ll go straight to the Samaritan’s use of oil and wine on the injured man. Symbolically speaking, again there is a lot of relevance here. Oil has been always used to anoint kings, and Jesus himself called wine his “blood.” The action of the Samaritan seems to be have both a direct physical action of cleaning and disinfecting the wounds of the injured man and also a deep spiritual meaning which is evident in the greater context of the story: Christ’s blood and the spirit of God cleanses humanity and brings redemption and holiness.
Last but not least, there is the eschatological clincher in the story: the Samaritan takes the injured man to an inn and pays the innkeeper the amount of two denari. The amount is not accidental since it is the exact amount required for Jewish men to pay as a yearly Temple tax. So not only was the Temple “debt” taken care of by the Samaritan, but he also promises a future restitution for all expenditures upon his return – no questions asked.
So now we find ourselves reading the story as outsiders, in a first-century eschatological context. Should this typological approach to the parable of the Good Samaritan be accurate, what is the relevance of the innkeeper and of the return of the Samaritan? And does this mean that as Christians, or humans, we should continue to see ourselves as victims of evil, laying helpless and half-dead in some inn on the road to Jericho? Where is the Samaritan? Has he returned to the inn, has he paid our debts in full? What are the full contemporary implications of this parable, besides the obvious: we are the enemies' neighbors? Is God our neighbor?
While this is only an exploration of the parable, I am hoping that it is prompting you to ask additional difficult questions, so feel free to toss them this way. There is no guarantee you will get answers but usually I have more questions than answers anyways.
How does the typology of this parable that I presented above connect with your worldview? How does it fit into your own narrative and understanding of the story of Adam, and the story of mankind? Are you uncomfortable with the thought that the story of redemption presented by the parable has universal implications that may fall outside of the traditional covenantal understanding of redemption?
What are your thoughts?
 Jerome, Homily on Psalm 14; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III Luke, p. 179.
 See Ezra 4:1-6.
 Mircea Eliade, Encyclopedia of Religions, Vol. 13, p. 33.
 Origen, Homily on the Gospel of Luke; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III, p. 180
 Jericho was
 Ambrose, Exposition on the Gospel of Luke 7.73; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament III, p. 179
 John E. Stambaugh and David L. Balch, The New Testament In Its Social Environment, Library of Early Christianity, p.78