What We Can Learn From the Good Samaritan Story
Published July 13, 2023
The term “Good Samaritan” today refers to someone who helps others in a random act of kindness. It originated from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that is very familiar to Christians.
In the story, a Jew was robbed and left to die by his assailants. Two highly respected men passed by him but decided to walk away. Then a Samaritan came along. Unlike the other two, he tended to the man’s wounds and brought him to an inn. Then he gave money to the innkeeper saying, “Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any expense you may have.”
But what has a thousand-year-old story to do with us? Like any parable, Jesus used this story to teach us lessons about life and about God. But before we can discuss the lessons we can learn from the good Samaritan story, we need to understand the parable first.
Understanding the Parable of the Good Samaritan
If you’re unfamiliar with parables, they are stories that Jesus told his disciples to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. The story of the good Samaritan is just one of the many parables in the Bible.
This parable can be found in Luke 10:25-37, and it goes like this:
On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by 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, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
What makes this story very compelling is that Jews and Samaritans are historical enemies. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans as they consider them renegades and “half-breeds.” And this enmity is returned by the Samaritans.
In Jesus’ time, this xenophobia goes more than just the cold shoulder treatment. The two tribes hated each other so much that the Jews would rather cross the Jordan River than go through Samaria. In Biblical times, the Jordan River is one of the most dangerous rivers in that part of the world. Yet, the Jews would rather risk their lives than go through the land of their sworn enemies.
By using a Samaritan in his story, Jesus is not only teaching his followers about the kind of love that transcends racial divisions. Remember that many of Jesus’ followers are Jews. He also wants them to see their enemies in a new light and love them as they would themselves.
Lessons from the Good Samaritan Story
Here are some of the most valuable lessons we can learn from the Good Samaritan story:
1. Help When Someone Needs Help
Having the intent to help is good, but acting on that intent is much better. The Samaritan’s intent didn’t save the wounded man from death. It’s his actions that ultimately saved the man’s life. He didn’t walk away, just like the two men before him. He decided to do something.
In our time, that half-dead man’s photos would end up on social media before he even got to the hospital. Everybody would take pictures, but very few would actually dare to help. We’ll feel sorry for that person but not enough to get involved. Now, are we the good Samaritan, or are we the men who walked away?
2. Race Should Never Matter
Xenophobia and racial prejudice have always been a great divider among nations. Since ancient times to the present, we tend to distrust others who don’t look like us or sound like us.
But the Samaritan didn’t care about race. He showed us that racism has no place in charity. And that we should help others regardless of where they came from or what they believe in. After all, we are all created equal: no one race is superior or inferior to the other. And at the end of the day, we all belong to the same race: humanity.
3. Be Kind Even To Your Haters
Have you ever wished ill of your enemy? Admit it or not, at some point in our lives, we’ve all done that. Sometimes, the temptation to take revenge on our enemies is just so strong and difficult to resist.
In the story, the injured traveler most probably hated the Samaritan. And he knew that the dying man may still hate him after he recovered. Yet, he helped him.
The civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:
“On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Consider putting yourself in the Samaritan’s shoes. What would you have thought of first? The fact that he’s from a different race or that he is dying and needs help?
4. Help Without Expecting Something in Return
Be honest with yourself, would you help someone if you knew they would never be able to return the favor? If you answered yes, then good for you. But most of us wouldn’t.
Most of us help because we are expecting a reward of some sort. We return a lost wallet and expect the owner to reward us. We help our friends because we assume that they’ll also help us when we are in need.
But, in doing so, we create a world where we only help “our kind” and those who are “one of us.” There is not much incentive to help strangers if we know we can get nothing from them.
The Samaritan knew that the wounded man might never help him in return. Yet, he pressed on because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Following in the Good Samaritan’s Footsteps
Being a Good Samaritan in its modern-day context is hard. Most of the time, we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget about our less fortunate brethren. But you can still fix that.
Start with little acts of kindness and practice more empathy. Think less about what others can do for you and more about what you can do for them. That, in itself, is already being a good Samaritan.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer and devoted Christian. She has a passion for writing about topics related to morality and helping the poor and homeless. She is the lead author for the Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen blog.
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