One of the attributes of the Good Samaritan parable is its action. It is perfect for dramatization. (One does need to pay attention to casting choices: Certain robbers may relish their role more than others.)
The characters have just the right balance between specific and generic. There are innocent travelers, priestly figures and bandits in every culture and epoch. I can fit myself into the story as well as the first-century Jews and Gentiles who first heard Jesus tell it.
Well, almost. One point of disconnect is the very concept of “Samaritan.” We know that the Jewish people listening to Jesus disliked, distrusted and disrespected Samaritans. We are told they hated them.
Most of us, as modern Christians and global citizens, have convinced ourselves we don’t hate any group in this way. Generally, I think this is true.
So how do we identify the Samaritan?
The Samaritan serves dual roles in the story. After Jesus finishes telling the parable, the expert in the law correctly identifies the Samaritan as “the neighbor.”
This is the person we are to love as ourselves.
However, the Samaritan is also the one who models what it means to “love as ourselves.” Between the unconscious guy, violent thieves and utterly indifferent ecclesiastics, the Samaritan is our only option for a hero.
So again the question: Who is the Samaritan in a modern telling?
I am. Or I should be. So should anyone seeking to faithfully walk the kingdom road. This is half the parable.
Jesus used a Samaritan on purpose. He was forcing the Jews to recognize their enemy — their “other” — who they had to love as much as they loved themselves. This was not a lesson they wanted to learn.
Perhaps the harder half of the parable is honestly recognizing our Samaritans.
To do that, I think we need to become the victimized man. If he was a Jewish man, wouldn’t he have been horrified to have been helped by a Samaritan?
How did the Jewish man react when he woke up and realized a Samaritan had touched his naked body? How did he feel being somewhere a Samaritan was admitted? The Samaritan paid for his care; the Jewish man was in debt to a Samaritan. How humiliating!
When I think of someone touching me, putting me in their car and driving me somewhere probably full of people like them — who causes me to feel as a Jewish man would toward a Samaritan? Who makes my skin crawl? Who brings fear, a shrinking back?
Maybe it’s a guy in a ski mask or someone with colored skin. Maybe it is a white policeman. Maybe they speak with a specific accent. Maybe they have a Confederate flag or a “Hillary for President” bumper sticker.
Who comes to mind, even for an instant? Everyone, everywhere fills in the blank spot.
Perhaps there are downsides to this exercise, but I believe that fear and disgust make it hard to love in the sacrificial way that Jesus would have us love.
At the end of his story, Jesus asked the expert, “Which of these was a neighbor to the man?” Significantly, the lawyer did not say, “The man who took care of him.”
His answer was much more beautiful: “The one who had mercy on him.”
Mercy. Kindness. These are things we can do in both our thoughts and actions. They can run through every part of our lives. Indeed, they must, because in the end Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.