The Good Samaritan is one of the most famous biblical parables told by Jesus. It is recounted in the Gospel according to Luke and defines a standard of love toward which Jesus wished his followers to aspire.
A lawyer asked Jesus how to be saved. Jesus asked in reply, “What is written in the Torah?” The lawyer recounted the Torah sayings of “Love God” and “Love thy neighbor.” Jesus said that following these doctrines leads to salvation. So the lawyer asked, in essence, “How can I identify who is my neighbor?” Jesus then began the parable.
Jesus told of a traveler who is attacked, robbed, and left on the side of a road. A priest passes by, but he avoids the man due to his disheveled appearance. Next, a Levite, a member of another revered sect, passes and ignores the stricken man as well. Finally, a Samaritan passes by. Samaritans were an ostracized and hated ethnicity at the time. According to the story, though, the Samaritan is the only one who decides to help by clothing, sheltering, and feeding the victim.
Turning to the lawyer who was questioning him, Jesus explained that it was the Samaritan, least likely to help the traveler and with nothing to gain, who was actually the traveler’s neighbor.
This is an excellent example of how Jesus often shocked his audience to get his point across. The celebration of a Samaritan, though hardly controversial today, would have caused astonishment at the time, thus emphasizing the importance of aiding people in need and the closeness of all humankind.
Although this is a relatively small passage in Luke, the concept of the Good Samaritan has become accepted into the mainstream by Christians and non-Christians alike.
- Ethnic Samaritans, now numbered in the hundreds and mostly living in northern Israel, became so scarce that the effect of choosing a Samaritan as the hero of the story has been lost. Over time, however, some re-tellers have attempted to insert more relevant ethnicities.
- A Good Samaritan now refers to a person who unselfishly helps a person in need, regardless of other circumstances.
- Good Samaritan laws exist in many countries today. They protect people who help others from being sued.