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The Good Samaritan Is a Hard Act to Follow


Sabbath School Commentary for discussion on Sabbath, May 30, 2015

One of the scripture passages for this week’s lesson is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 6:25-37), one of the most iconic stories in the Bible. The expression “Good Samaritan” is indeed proverbial, in that even people who have never heard the story, much less read the Bible, know what it means: someone who goes out on a limb to help someone else, often a stranger.

Good Samaritan stories are popular in the news, and go some way towards alleviating the otherwise dreary litany of all the ways mankind can break the Ten Commandments. But what is it about a Good Samaritan that makes them more interesting and news-worthy than the everyday acts of kindness that pass without comment or notice?

There seem to be three related aspects to this. The first is that there is often some element of risk or sacrifice in the act, whether actual bodily harm, monetary cost, or just the time taken out from normal activities. In the parable, the Samaritan has to pause in his journey, in a spot he knows is dangerous. He takes the time to bandage the man’s wounds and, as it’s unlikely he was carrying a first-aid kit, he probably had to sacrifice some of his own clothing for bandages and his dinner for the oil and wine. He then forgoes the comfort of riding on his donkey in order to transport the man, detours to a safe place to leave him, and then pays the innkeeper a considerable amount to care for the injured man, with a promise to come back to make up any deficit.

The second aspect of a Good Samaritan is that they usually act on behalf of a stranger. Performing an act of kindness or sacrifice on behalf of friends and family is commendable but completely explicable. In fact it’s what we are programmed to do, particularly for close family or children. But to risk life and limb, or even our hard-earned cash, on a complete stranger is a very different prospect. Of course in the case of the parable it was doubly astonishing in that the Israelites and Samaritans despised each other. It would be like a Palestinian tending a modern day Israeli, or an illegal immigrant giving a helping hand to a white supremacist.

The third is that they perform their act of kindness with no thought of recompense or even of recognition. Sometimes the stranger who pulls a child out of a river, helps an elderly woman with a tire-change, gives a homeless man a pair of shoes, or the coat off his back, will fade into the distance after the deed is done and remain anonymous. Sometimes they are identified and when asked why they did it, will often shrug and say “anyone would have done the same in those circumstances” or “it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time”.

Altruism is defined as an “unselfish regardfor or devotion to the welfare of others”, or “behavior that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to one’s self but that benefits others”. It is not simply a synonym for kindness. It is not predicated on loyalty, which takes into account familial or social relationships. It is purely a willingness to risk something (or everything) for another’s wellbeing; whether or not that person is known to them; whether or not they approve of that person, their lifestyle, their politics, or their haircut.


This, people, is what Jesus tells us to do in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

Not being perfect. Not obsessing over making sure we worship on Saturday, pay tithe or baptize by immersion. Not even being on the “right” side of the Women’s Ordination debate.

According to Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the One with whom we cannot argue – the answer to “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is simple –

‘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 show mercy.

It’s harder than it looks.

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