The Scandal of the Samaritan


“You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Luke 10 (ESV)

The shock of Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan no longer makes its true impact on many Christians. In our day of biblical illiteracy, we often have little or no idea about the setting. And the fitting title, by which this parable is well-known, obscures the fact that this would have been scandalous to the ears of the listeners.

 If we remember the woman at the well (John 4) we have a clue about a Samaritan’s standing in that day when she asks Jesus, “How is that you, being a Jew, ask me a drink since I am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” [v.9]

And we are given a key detail by this woman about one of the factors of this division in verse 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

 ‘This mountain’ was Mt. Gerizim where a temple to Yahweh was built in the 4th century B.C. by the Samaritans. For the Jew, the only true temple of worship was in Jerusalem.

The key factor in their division was ancestry. The Samaritans viewed themselves as descendents of the Northern Tribes of Israel.  We hear this in the woman’s words, “our father Jacob” (v. 12).

 But the Jews viewed them as unclean foreigners. This went back in history to Assyria’s conquest of the Northern Kingdom. When one nation conquered another, it was often the policy to re-settle the conquered land with other peoples (see 2 Kings 17:24 re: Samaria). This also resulted in inter-marriage with any remaining tribes of the original people.

Thus, when Jesus spoke of the priest and Levite and Samaritan, and asked which did the will of God, it was a real shocker. These two Jews, called by God for service to him, a priest and a Levite, disobeyed God’s command.

 Like the injured man, the priest was coming down from Jerusalem, the center of worship. “He would be returning from a period of duty in the temple to his home in the country (cf. 1:23), for Jericho was one of the principal country residences for priests.” [NIGTC, Marshall]

But it was the despised Samaritan who loved this injured man as himself, thus fulfilling the command of God. And it was the loving acts of this Samaritan of which Jesus spoke when he told the devout Jewish questioner, “You go, and do likewise.”

[Go and do as this Samaritan did, not as the Priest and Levite did.]


2 comments on “The Scandal of the Samaritan

  1. […] Jesus also taught us to love our neighbor  (The Second Great Commandment). As E. J. Carnell wrote, “The responsibility to love all […]

  2. […] Thus, Jesus’ interrogator was one “learned in the Law” of Moses. Then, we come to two of the major characters of the parable, the priest and the Levite. We are, now, set up for the shock (in Jesus’ day) of the despised Samaritan. […]

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