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Transforming: The Church as Agent of Change in the Parable of the Good Samaritan

 

Jesus’ Parabolic Answer

Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus tells a parable that expounds God’s love. One obvious and inescapable truth is that there is no love of God without the love of one’s neighbor.6 Nevertheless, Jesus advances to challenge the lawyer’s application of that principle: The circle of God’s love encompasses not just Israel, but the alien and stranger (Cf. Lev. 19:9,10). To do this he tells a story/parable that is both believable and incredible. It is believable because the event was common in that day; incredible because of the actions and roles of the main characters. Through the parable, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question and a more fundamental one: “What does God’s love of neighbor look like?”

 

God’s Love Is Impartial and Without Prejudice

The lovers of God do more than feel or identify with those hurting and in need; they act to bring relief.

To make this point, Jesus chose a Samaritan as the “good guy” who models what the Law taught about loving one’s neighbor. No doubt there were smug looks and nods as Jesus described the callous indifference of both priest and Levite who passed by the helpless victim. One can only imagine the gasps from the crowd, however, when he added, “But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion” (v.33). The Samaritans, despised as religiously apostate and an ethnically impure race of “half-Jews,” had a long history of opposition and treachery toward the Israelites.7 There could not be a more unlikely hero for the Jews in Jesus’ audience. Jesus has the Samaritan acting more like a pious Law-keeping Jew than did the Jewish religious leaders!

 

God’s Love Has Compassion

The Samaritan shows the covenantal love and compassion of Yahweh to his neighbor. He acts spontaneously, without regard to social or religious prejudice, out of pity for a fellow human being in need. Jesus thus paints a picture of the true lover of God who has God’s merciful heart toward the victims of sin in this world. He reveals a loving heart of someone who stands in solidarity with hurting humanity and has the capacity to feel their pain.

 

God’s Love Shows Mercy

When God’s righteous standards are violated through an act of injustice, justice requires an intervention that seeks correction.

However, the lovers of God do more than feel or identify with those hurting and in need; they act to bring relief. Mercy that originates in God’s love intervenes by coming to the aid of those in need and distress. One cannot help but recall God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Moses tells us that God “heard” the groanings and cries of His people, took notice of their sufferings, and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 2:23-25). When he reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush, God states, “I have surely seen the afflictions of my people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings, So I have come down to deliver them” (Ex. 3:7,8). The Samaritan who sees, feels compassion and acts in mercy is so much like Yahweh.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2009

About the Author: James D. Hernando, Ph.D. (Drew University), is Professor of New Testament at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is author of Dictionary of Hermeneutics (Gospel Publishing House, 2005), the commentary on 2 Corinthians in the Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1999), as well as numerous articles and papers. www.agts.edu/faculty/hernando.html

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