But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. — LUKE 10:30-37
In the parable we know as The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of someone who would have been despised by his audience. In the first century, Samaritans and Jews detested each other for a variety of historical, cultural, and religious reasons.
The Samaritans, who lived in the region of Samaria between Galilee on the north and Judea on the south, believed that they were faithful descendants of the ancient Israelites. Jews, however, regarded the Samaritans as “half-breeds” and religious heretics. After all, they had their own temple and their own distinctive version of the Mosaic law. Tensions between these two historically related peoples were exacerbated by the fact that they sometimes were on opposing sides in military conflicts.
This history helps us to understand something about Jesus’s parable that is essential. He purposefully chose the archetypal “bad guy” to serve as the “good guy” in the story. This must have grated on the ears of the Jewish legal expert who was the primary audience for Jesus’s story, not to mention any others who were listening.
When I read the story of “The Good Bad Guy, AKA Samaritan,” I don’t intuitively feel any negativity toward the Samaritan. I know the history, but I don’t have any emotional baggage when it comes to people from Samaria. Therefore, if I’m going to open my heart to this story, I need to relate it to my own situation. I need to ask myself the uncomfortable question: Who are my “Samaritans”?
Almost all human beings have people we consider to be “Samaritans.” Perhaps your “Samaritans” aren’t religious groups, but cultural or political groups. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, chances are you don’t have much love for folks on the other side. And, if you’re like millions of Americans, you despise those with whom you differ politically in much the ways Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Or, your “Samaritans” may be people of a different race or ethnicity. Or people from a different country. Or from a different generation. Or from a different economic class. Or whose lifestyle you disapprove of. Or who watch the news station you detest. Or ...
Think and pray
Who are your “Samaritans” – those whom you find it difficult to respect, associate with and serve. Try an experiment: Read Jesus’s story, replacing “But a Samaritan” in verse 33 with “But a ________.” Fill in the blank with whatever makes sense for you. Then, read about what your “Samaritan” did in Jesus’s story. How does this make you feel? What is stirring in you? What might God want to teach you through this thought experiment?
Lord, I know you’re not asking me to agree with all opinions, to pretend as if all ways of living and speaking are just fine. But you are asking me to love both my neighbors and my enemies. And you are inviting me to see the potential for you to do good in and through those I would discount. So help me, I pray, to be open to seeing people as you see them. Amen.
Mark D. Roberts is the Executive Director of Fuller's Max De Pree Center for Leadership. He is the principal writer of the Life for Leaders daily devotional. Emailed each morning to over 7,000 subscribers, Life for Leaders serves leaders in all sectors of life by helping them go deeper in relationship with God as they grow in a biblical understanding of their work.