Who Is A Good Samaritan?
The Good Samaritan
Who is a Good Samaritan?
Based on Luke 10:25-37
By Bill Smiley and Roy Blizzard © 2012
In the New Testament we read an account that many have misunderstood. Seemingly, it contradicts traditional Judaism and thereby makes it look as if Jesus, somehow, transgressed God’s law. Contained within this parable are several “odd items” which commentators have overlooked. A closer inspection of these perplexities reveal a full understanding of the text, the mind of Jesus, as well as the other legal experts in Jewish law, in this case, a scribe of the Pharisaical branch of Judaism of which Jesus was a member.
Here is the text in question: KJV
25. And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26. He said unto him, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” 27. And he answering said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” 28. And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” 29. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30. And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31. And by chance there came down a certain Priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34. And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. 36. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” 37. And he said, “He that shewed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”
In our opinion, there are numerous issues that need addressing in this passage. At ‘face value’, as generally worked over in Christian commentaries, it seems that this parable suggests that there is not one Jew capable of ministering or performing any merciful acts. This particular view would contradict the Torah and the doctrines of the Pharisees, especially those of Hillel whom Jesus was often following.
The first thing we need to do to obtain a clear understanding of this rather complex story is to establish the time of year the story takes place, as many times Jesus’ comments reflect traditional Jewish thoughts based on current events.
This scenario probably takes place during Elul, which is the 6th month of the Biblical calendar, (late summer/early fall). This particular month calls for repentance, or Teshuvah, the spiritual preparation for the High Holidays, (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). If one were to count from Tishri as the first month of the calendar (as the Rabbinic tradition does), Elul would be the last month of the year -- a time to make "New Year's Resolutions," and to turn away from sin before the start of the New Year. The month of Elul, therefore, is a time each year to prepare for the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, by getting our spiritual house in order.
Every year, the "Season of Teshuvah" runs forty days from the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul to Yom Kippur. During this time Jews make every effort to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God." In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are called Yemei Ratzon רָצוֹןיְמֵי - "Days of Favor," because it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation for the sin of the golden calf, (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar).After the Jews had committed this grievous sin, Moses despaired whether the Jews would ever be able to find favor in God's eyes again. God, however, (as explained in the Talmud - Tractate Rosh Hashanah 17b) donned a “Tallit,” and, in the role of a chazzan, showed Moses the order of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, called Shelosh Esrei Middot. (In the synagogue, the "Selichot service" is built upon a recitation of these thirteen merciful attributes that the LORD revealed (see Exodus 34:6-7).
The Law of God was not to be considered burdensome to the Jews. Jews did not believe they had to keep every law in order to earn God's favor. On the contrary, they followed the law because they had already had received God's favor. The law, therefore, was considered a gift, not a burden, and enhanced the “Time of Favor”.
The second issue, here, is why would a scribe tempt Jesus? - Verse 29: In actuality, this part of the passage, translated from Hebrew, should be rendered – he was zealous to vindicate himself in the eyes of those around who were listening to the conversation. He asked Jesus, “And who is one’s neighbor?” The scribe, here, is asking a question dealing with Deuteronomy 13: 6-11. Essentially, he is asking, “Who is your friend?” “Is your friend enticing you to serve other Gods?” He is attempting to catch Jesus with a trick question, possibly trying to get him to admit something that would eventually lead to his arrest and execution by the Jewish leaders.
Deuteronomy 13: 6-11, KJV: 6. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 7. Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8. Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9. But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 11. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.
The scribe, addressing Jesus, is probably a zealous Pharisee after the way of Phineas, one who was zealous for God. By asking such an argumentative question, the scribe is trying to determine if Jesus, based upon his teachings, was good or bad and zealous as he was.
In verse 30, there was a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho. While we don’t know the nationality of this man who was injured and left-for-dead, we are told the nationality of the person who aided him; a Samaritan. But why would a Samaritan be traveling from Samaria to Jerusalem and then toward the southern boundary of Judea?
Knowing full well that the Samaritans despised the Jews and the Jews despised the Samaritans, why would Jesus insert a Samaritan into the parable when he told his own disciples to avoid the cities of the Samaritans and the gentiles? (Matthew 10: 5-6) It is here we may look for an answer.
Samaria was a region in the land of Israel. Its geographical boundaries are not clearly defined in the Bible. Originally, however, it was the territory of Ephraim and half of the tribe of Manasseh with the Jordan River as the eastern boundary and the coast as the western boundary. The southern boundary ran from Jericho to Bethel, and the northern boundary was the rich valleys of Beth Shan and Jezreel up through the northern parts of Mount Carmel.
The Samaritans believed that Moses commissioned an altar on Mount Gerazim, or the mountain of blessing which justified their system of worship on that mountain and not in Jerusalem. When the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, they took almost everyone captive, exiling them to the Babylonian Empire. However, they left behind the lowest of classes because they didn’t want to risk defiling their own society.
These, which were left behind, intermarried with other peoples who slowly migrated into the region. This resulted in the emergence of an ethnic and religious people called the Samaritans. Because their faith was comprised of a combination of law and ritual from the Law of Moses, as well as various superstitions, the Samaritans claimed to have a historical connection to the people of Israel. Most Jews in the time of Jesus despised the Samaritans, even more than gentiles, because they were considered religious "half-breeds" with an eclectic, mongrel faith.
With all this in mind, why did Jesus, shockingly, interject a Samaritan into this particular parable?
In Verse 31, a priest or more properly a Cohen is the first to happen upon the wounded, left- for-dead man. Then in verse 32, a Levite is the second person to discover him.
According to the Torah, if a Priest or a Levite, or anyone for that matter comes into contact with blood, or a dead body, other than a relative, they become ceremonially unclean for seven days. In both instances, the Cohen and the Levite, according to Jewish Law were not in the wrong regarding their actions toward the wounded, half-dead individual; there existed the possibility that they both thought he was already dead.
However, it says in the text that they were on their way down from the Temple and on their way to Jericho. This leaves the assumption that they had already served their time in service to God and the nation and they would not have been affected by ministering to the suffering man. But what about this “Samaritan”?
In correlation to the parable, those making an aliyah – a going up to become righteous, or those which are called to the Torah, are called as follows: First, a Cohen (Priest) and second, a Levite. The Cohen is called first in an aliyah because the Cohenim made intercession between God and Israel. They were also responsible for everything pertaining to the sacrifices. The Cohenim were the descendents of Aaron, who was the first Cohen Hagadol – Chief Priest.
The Levite is second in aliyah because they were the musicians and praise leaders before God – “Let Judah go up first - Judah = praise, and the tribe of Levi, as well, sided with Moses at Mount Sinai. (After the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the priestly services ceased. In modern Judaism, to preserve the honor and functions of the Priest and Levite, these two, respectively, are called to the Torah first).
The next five called to the Torah are known, in modern days, as Israelites (Jewish lay men), or those who are not a Levite or a Cohen. In this parable, we have the Cohen, then the Levite, but where is the Israelite? For some reason, the next person mentioned is a Samaritan.
Again, the question raised here is why would a Samaritan be on their way to, or from Jerusalem? (Verse 33) Are we to conclude that the ‘lowest of the low, the despised dregs of the earth’ according to Judaism in the 1st century - in this case, a Samaritan - that performs an act of mercy is more esteemed in the eyes of the Almighty than those, because of the statutes in the Torah, cannot perform such an act?
What we don’t read, but was probably understood in Jesus’ day, is that maybe the Priest and the Levite wanted to show mercy, but could not because of the laws of purity; in other words, they worshipped God out of fear of not breaking a law instead of worshipping God out of love for God’s creation. Therefore, out of fear of contaminating themselves, they made haste to their destination to find, and send help. This concept of the two types of righteous Jews was well known in Jesus’ day.
There stands, however, the possibility that Jesus was regarding the Samaritans as part of the “Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.” Is Jesus regarding the Samaritan, in this parable, as an “Israelite?” It appears that, in reality, there are two points to consider about this Samaritan.
#1) There is the distinct possibility that the Samaritan encountered the wounded individual before or after making an Aliyah to Jerusalem.
If he was about Jerusalem making Teshuvah (as a “Ger-toshav,” or in Hebrew: גר תושב ger "foreigner" + toshav "resident" - a term used in Judaism to refer to a gentile who is a "resident alien", that is, one who has embraced the seven Noahide laws, one who lives in a Jewish state and has certain protections under Jewish law, and is considered a righteous gentile –in Hebrew: חסיד אומות העולם hassid umot ha-olam - "pious among the nations", or a Ger-Tzedek - one who is ‘standing at the gate,’ or, in other words, a ‘God-fearer,’ or one who is in the process of converting to Judaism and the Torah) it would explain why a Samaritan would be out of his region, and in or around Jerusalem. Also, a Samaritan would not have been strict concerning the laws of ritual purity therefore leaving him free to perform a merciful act as in this parable.
#2) In the 1st century, the word Samaritan was synonymous with Israelite, or those of the Northern tribes.
It is apparent that in this story there must be the triad of the Priest, the Levite and the Israelite in the story as understood by the Jews of Jesus’ day. Jesus, however, in the case of substituting a Samaritan, to mean an Israelite, is simply drawing attention to the fact that any Jewish lay person should have been overwhelmed with mercy regarding the wounded individual. (Talmud: "Whosoever saves a single life saves an entire universe" Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5), and this is indeed the point Jesus seems to be making.
In Judaism, the person given the opportunity to perform an act of Tzedakah – Righteous act - has the Favor of God. The word, Favor, is related to the same word for Friend or Neighbor which are the same word in the text of Luke! It could be translated that the Jewish scribe asked Jesus, “Who is the favored one?” Jesus’ story, in typical Jewish form, seemingly answers a question with a question by asking the scribe, “Who do you think is the favored one”?
Once Jesus tells this story, the scribe has no other way of answering except to say that the Samaritan was the neighbor who had favor from God. To answer any other way would mean that the scribe himself incorrectly interpreted Jewish Law.
At the end of this story Jesus then tells the scribe, “Go and do likewise.” There is a double meaning presented here: “Have Mercy on me (Jesus) as well, since I am caring for those who are injured too.” The second meaning is, “Go and repent and worship God out of love and be a servant of your fellow man and seek to heal him and not condemn him to death.”
This story ultimately revolves around the Jewish concepts of Tzedakah and Malchut Shamim or the Kingdom of Heaven in regards to repentance. These two concepts of righteousness were the two sub-keys to understanding almost all of Jesus’ teachings after his main concept of unification concerning an intimate relationship with God. Jesus’ main point is that he is trying to convey to those listening that in Judaism Tzedakah is ultimate and uncommanded.
While the Cohen and Levite were obeying the Law, the man who exercises Tzedakah is actually more favored by God as he is exemplifying that love which is uncommanded, an uncommanded act of charity and kindness towards one’s fellow man and thereby he unifies with God’s purpose and existence. Since it is the Time of Elul, Jesus makes the point of telling this scribe to get his own house in order as far as righteousness through repentance goes and don’t judge someone whose house is already in order.
And to Jesus’ story about the Samaritan, the scribe who questions Jesus acknowledges that this concept of Tzedakah takes precedent in Jewish thought in his answer.
Therefore, based on the concepts of Unification, Tzedakah and Malchut Shamim, Jesus, at that time, is stressing the importance of repentance, or getting one’s house in order. By, and through this, the Kingdom of God will then be manifest as one allows the acts of Tzedakah to flow outwardly from the unified purpose of God and man. Thereby, one will find favor with God.
Our conclusion is that sometime after the 2nd century, the Jewish meaning surrounding this passage has been lost due to Hellenization and Romanization; the translations were altered in order to make the Jews look like the “bad guys,” when in fact, this was a very normal conversation in Jesus’ day.
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