Sunday, December 05, 2010

Understanding biblical parables: The Good Samaritan

Today we will examine the Parable of the Good Samaritan

The parable

Jesus sez:

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey,* took him to an inn and took care of him.** The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'" (Luke 10:30-35 NIV)

The cultural context

The parable is notable for its realism. Priests back then were similar to modern-day priests. Thus, a priest who saw a naked man laying next to the road would have taken a good look at him and then thought, "Nope, too old for me," and continued on his way.

Levites were traveling blue jeans salesmen. A Levite would have realized that although a naked man lying by the side of the road would need pants, he wouldn't have any money to pay for them. A Levite would therefore have passed on his way without trying to make a sale.

Samaritans were notorious pranksters. A Samaritan who saw a naked man lying next to a road would have thought, "I bet I can have a lot of fun with this," and stopped. He would have done something just like taking the injured man to an inn and leaving him there with only two silver coins.

But the joke was on the innkeeper! Because the Samaritan would never come back. And he had poured oil and wine on the injured man's wounds, ensuring that a massive infection would soon break out and the innkeeper would be stuck with a doctor bill for a couple hundred silver coins for the amputations and so on that would necessarily follow. If the prank went really well, he might even get stuck with funeral expenses. Ha-ha-ha! Those Samaritans were such jokers!

The meaning of the parable

The meaning of the parable is that if something bad happens to us, we should always remember that it could be worse. If we get robbed, for example, we're still better off than if we had gotten robbed and then pranked by a Samaritan.

*This is not a euphemism.
**Neither is this.

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