The parable of the Good Samaritan is very famous. So much so that we can sometimes forget how shocking the story was to the first people who heard it.
In those days, the temple priests and assistants were important people in the town. You would look to them to help teach you how to live well and to follow God. If anyone was likely to do something like help an injured man, you would expect it to be them – especially since he was someone from home! But in the story both quickly walk to the other side of the road, unwilling to stop and be a target of bandits themselves. They leave the man hurt and alone with no one else to help him.
So when the last person comes past (a Samaritan from an enemy town) the first listeners must have expected him to finish beating the man up, or at least to ignore him too. But he didn’t. He stopped and tended to the man’s wounds. He used what he had to help him and then paid extra to make sure he was well looked after. Even though where he lived meant he was meant to be the man’s enemy, in his actions he treated him as a neighbour.
And that word ‘neighbour’ here is important. Because this story started with Jesus asking a man what the law of Moses said about how to gain eternal life. The man replied “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” But then he asked ‘and who is my neighbour?’
Jesus’ story shows us that our neighbour is not someone in our own family or a person who lives nearby. But our neighbour is anyone who we come across. He challenges us not just to love the people who are like us, but those from completely different walks of life too. Ultimately, Jesus calls us to ‘do the same’ as the Samaritan and to love our neighbours as ourselves – by showing others mercy and compassion.