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A Modern Parable of the Good Samaritan

In Luke 10:25-37, we find the well known parable of the Good Samaritan.  To set the context, a Jewish religious leader, in an attempt to test or trick Jesus, asked Him the question, “What must I do to get to Heaven and have eternal life?”  Jesus responded with questions of His own, “What do you think?  What is written in the Law?”  The man responded by quoting Dt 6:5, and Lev 19:18, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus affirmed the answer to be correct, saying “Do this and you will live”.  [Note that Jesus' statement is not a declaration of salvation by works.  The man responded as one under the law, so Jesus merely quoted the promise of the law.  To be acquitted under the law, every regulation must be followed perfectly in action, thought and motivation, which is impossible for humans.  The man should have acknowledged his guilt to obtain salvation by grace instead of attempting to justify himself.]  The man then followed up with the question “Who is my neighbor?” which Jesus answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the parable, a man (probably Jewish) is robbed and badly beaten while walking down the road.  A priest and later, a Levite (the tribe that assisted in the priestly work) noticed the man but crossed over the road and passed by on the other side.  Finally, a Samaritan came by, bandaged the man’s wounds, took him to a nearby inn for care, and made provisions for paying any medical expenses.

[For a deeper appreciation of this parable, we interrupt narrative to better understand the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.  During OT times, the Israelites living in Samaria often intermarried with foreigners inhabitants and adopted portions of their false religion.  Thus, not only were Samaritans considered “half-breeds” by the Jews, but were also detested as pagans.  Jewish travelers often detoured around Samaritan territory to avoid touching their feet to Samaritan soil.  Jesus broke down the barriers between His followers and the Samaritans (see the narrative of the “woman at the well” in John chapter 4, and His disciples later ministering in Samaria - Ac 8:25), but the Jewish leaders still despised the Samaritans.]

Returning to the parable, Jesus concludes with the question “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed?”  The Jewish leader could not bring himself to directly acknowledge the Samaritan, so he instead replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus then told him to “Go and do likewise”.

Parables, one of Jesus' favorite methods of teaching, are brief fictional stories which illustrate a moral or ethical truth.  One of the primary characteristics of a parable is that it utilized characters, objects, cultural situations, and experiences which were very familiar to the listening audience of that era.  With that in mind, we thought it might be interesting to update the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a familiar modern day setting.  We'll arbitrarily select Dallas as the location, and a crowd of Southern Baptists as the audience, since they are both close to home.

Written Feb 2010.  Updated 2021.

 The Good Samaritan - A Modern Parable

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]

An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant in Dallas as they were walking to their car.  As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Roman Catholic priest walked toward them on his way to Mass, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to other side of the road and continued on his way.  A short while later, a couple of Methodist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.

[At this point, the Southern Baptists are thinking to themselves, “Well, what you expect from a Catholic or a Methodist.  Just wait until Jesus gets around to a Baptist.  I know he’ll stop and help these poor folks out.”  Just as the Pharisees took great pride in their alms giving for the poor, so do Baptists in their humanitarian aid.  The story continues:]

Finally, an agnostic came along and felt compassion for the couple.  He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital.  He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy.

[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to him?”  [Just as the Jewish leader was unwilling to use the word “Samaritan", the Baptist was likewise unwilling to say that “the Agnostic was the most neighborly to the couple".]  So, the Baptist who originally asked “Who is my neighbor?” simply replied, “The one who had mercy on them”.  Jesus then commanded “Go and do likewise”.


We've written a chapter on Interpreting Parables in our “Literary Types and Genres of the Bible” section, but we'd like to highlight a few attributes of particular application to our Good Samaritan parable.

In interpreting a parable, the most important thing to remember is that, almost without exception, a parable teaches one essential point, so our main objective is to determine this point as intended by the author.  In our tale, the central purpose is to answer the “Who is my neighbor” question.  The Jewish religious leaders believed that only the righteous were their neighbors, but Jesus clearly explains that anyone in need is our neighbor by illustrating the proper response and attitude of service in a given situation.

Therefore, we must determine and focus on the main theme, being careful not to draw unnecessary conclusions from this (or any other) parable.  For example, we should not assume that agnostics are morally and ethically superior, or more likely than believers to typically respond positively to someone in need.  In fact, the agnostic is actually responding in contrast to his or her worldview.  Since in his or her mind, people are simply cosmic accidents in the evolutionary chain, the mugging would simply be natural selection or survival of the fittest.  On the other hand, a Christian realizes that all people have worth as one who is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27).

Nor should we assume that the agnostic is “saved”, while all religious folks are hypocrites or pretenders.  On the contrary, Southern Baptists are usually among the first responders to humanitarian emergencies across the globe.  Instead, we must focus on the fact that, in this particular instance, the agnostic responded as a true neighbor, and we should follow the same principle.

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me (Mt 25:40).

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