In WHO IS MORE INCONVENIENCED, THE DETAINED OR THE DEAD?, some of the commenters in the discussion that followed insisted that Jesus would insist that our Christian beliefs obligate us to let refugees of all sorts into the United States. One even cited The Parable of the Good Samaritan to support his argument. Let’s examine what Jesus expected.
When we think of being charitable to our neighbor, most Christians do in fact think of The Parable of the Good Samaritan. What is important is that when we read this parable we suddenly realize that everyone is our neighbor. There is no one God does not expect us to love.
Luke 10:25-37 New King James Version (NKJV)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
27 So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, 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. 34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Why a good Samaritan? The Jews and the Samaritans were notorious for detesting each other. The Jews still attempted keep the law, but the Samaritans had fallen away and intermarried with non-Jews. Thus, Jesus contrasted the behavior of a couple of Jews who knew the law and disobeyed with a Samaritan whose conscience guided him to obey the law.
So what is the lesson of the parable? When we look around the world, we see seeming endless numbers of people suffering. What does this parable tell us to do about that? Well, if we draw the wrong conclusion from The Parable of the Good Samaritan, we can become hopeless. What can we do? How are we suppose to love all the people in the world as we love our self? That’s not possible. Which of us can solve all of our own problems? How are we suppose to relieve the entire world of all its suffering? We cannot.
With dreams of Utopia and out of guilt, many of us call upon government to end human suffering. These think of the immense power of large numbers of people working together. They think that if we can just get everyone to work together we can solve all the world’s problems. That is, for the sake of fulfilling a dream they deify (or make an idol of) the government. That misses the point of the parable. With this parable, Jesus calls upon each of us, not bureaucrats in some government, to care about each other. When the good Samaritan came across someone in trouble, he gave from his own resources what help he could. Does anyone actually think God will admit us into heaven just because we paid our taxes?
So it is the early church organized charities. Here are some examples.
- Act 6:1-7 describes the organization of the first charity to help widows.
- 2 Corinthians 8-9 speaks of a collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem and exhorts the brethren to be cheerful givers.
- 1 Timothy 5:3-16 provides the guidance the Apostle Paul gave a protegé, Timothy, as to how a church should support needy widows.
Consider again the lawyer’s question. “Who is my neighbor?” Does it make a difference that the man the good Samaritan helped was a stranger? Yes. So long as we remain in this life Jesus does not expect us to treat our husbands, our wives, our children, our relatives, our friends, and members of our community the same way we treat complete and total strangers. That was the amazing thing about the good Samaritan. He actually helped a stranger.
What We Owe The Stranger
Consider that good Samaritan. He had other business to attend to. So he did not stay with the injured man. Instead, he gave the innkeeper two denarii and left the stranger he had helped in someone else’s care. The good Samaritan had other obligations that had a higher priority than the personal care of a stranger. Still, he did what he could.
Because we are all the image bearers of our Creator in one sense we are all neighbors. Nevertheless, we each have greater obligations to family, friends, and the people in our community than we do to strangers. Since the word stranger occurs over a 100 times in the NKJV, we can safely say the Bible makes a clear distinction.
Leviticus 19:33-34 New King James Version (NKJV)
33 ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
That’s why the Bible calls upon us to allow the stranger who dwells among us to become one of us. Moreover, the Bible reminds us with some irony, to take care of our own.
Leviticus 25:35-38 New King James Version (NKJV)
35 ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. 37 You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
Note, however, that when a stranger lived among the Jews, the Jews expected that stranger to conform to their customs. So over time that stranger became Jewish or he had to leave.
Strangers might receive sympathy, but they were not trusted.
Proverbs 11:15 New King James Version (NKJV)
15 He who is surety for a stranger will suffer,
But one who hates being surety is secure.
The Jews knew in fact that strangers could be especially dangerous.
Isaiah 1:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
7 Your country is desolate,
Your cities are burned with fire;
Strangers devour your land in your presence;
And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Nevertheless, Jesus calls upon us to help even the stranger.
Matthew 25:37-40 New King James Version (NKJV)
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
How much should we sacrifice to help others? That’s a personal choice.
- We have no right to sacrifice what belongs to others. We don’t starve our own to feed the hungry. We don’t take the clothes off our children to clothe others. When we nurse the sick, we strive to avoid getting sick. When visit prisoners, we don’t stage jailbreaks. When we take in strangers, we don’t give up our own culture and beliefs or risk invasion and conquest.
- Because we each belong to God, we have no business carelessly sacrificing our self. We must take care of our self so that we might serve as long as we can.
Other Views On The Parable of the Good Samaritan
- The Good Samaritan (settledinheaven.wordpress.com): This post is a traditional verse-by-verse exegesis. If you really want to dig into the parable, this is a great place to start.
- What is the meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (altruistico.wordpress.com): As its title suggest, this post seeks the meaning of the parable. The focus here is on the concepts Jesus wants us to learn from the parable.
- Go and do likewise (lifereference.wordpress.com): Here the author examines the last two verses from the parable, calling these lines the most fundamental of all of the teachings of Christ. Effectively, this is the minimum we must get out of the parable.
- Love According to God-Part 1 (thei535project.wordpress.com): This post uses the The Parable of the Good Samaritan to emphasize God expects us to love everyone. This post fits the parable into the overall concept of Christian love.
- Who Crosses Your Path? (secretplacesofelelyon.wordpress.com): This post explains how some can twist the parable into a guilt trip.
- Syrian refugees and Christian values? (insanitybytes2.wordpress.com): This post deals most directly with the refugee issue. It also has the least to say about the parable, but it says more than enough to justify including it here.