The Good Samaritan
William Bacon Stevens, 1857
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of 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, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins 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."
The law of benevolence never received a more beautiful illustration than in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The tact with which it was introduced, and the judicious selection of its circumstances, are only equaled by the felicity of its similitude and the force of its appeal.
For the purpose of putting to the proof Christ's knowledge and wisdom, an expert in the law, on one occasion, asked Him the momentous question, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" As one conversant with the law, our Lord referred him back to the law, and asked him what that said upon the subject. He immediately returned the prompt reply, "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself." Jesus replied, "You have answered right; do this, and you shall live."
But the expert in the law was not prepared to fulfill the broad provisions of this law, and hence, in order to justify any remissness, or to excuse the performance of his duty under the plea of ignorance, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" for the Pharisees, to which sect the expert in the laws mostly belonged, acknowledged none as neighbors, but those of their own faith and nation.
Instead of giving a categorical reply, our Lord brings before him the case of a man, who, on his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, about fifteen miles to the south-west, on the river Jordan, fell among the thieves which infested the lurking places of that wilderness road. These bandits not merely robbed the traveler of his money--but "stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead."
While thus lying weltering in his blood, "a priest happened to be going down the same road," for thousands of priests and Levites dwelt at Jericho, and passed to and fro as they went up to Jerusalem to minister before the Lord, or returned from the Temple, having finished their course of service.
This priest saw the wounded man--but, instead of pausing to alleviate his suffering, and thus fulfilling, only in a higher degree, the Levitical law which declared, "You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him to lift them up again"--"he passed by on the other side."
Soon a Levite came to the place, and, moved by a curiosity that had in it no element of compassion, "came and looked on him;" saw his helpless state; and yet, unmoved by the sight, he also "passed by on the other side."
But that which the wounded man's own countrymen refused to do, the nation's enemy, a Samaritan, did; for "a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him."
This compassion was no mere barren emotion--but active and practical. He went to him where he lay in his blood; and bandaged his wounds, pouring on wine--the styptic qualities of which were well known; and allayed the pain of the wounds with the soothing oil of Samaria; carefully binding up his wounds, and preparing him for removal from his painful position.
Nor did his compassion end here. He set the miserable man "on his own donkey;" and, walking by his side to support him in his seat and to guide the donkey--he "brought him to an inn," and there tarried with him all night, ministering those attentions which the traveler so much needed, over and above those which he had received at the wayside.
On the morrow, before he left to go on his journey, he paid the innkeeper in advance, for the care of the sick man--giving him two denarii--a sum equal to the full pay of a laborer for two days, and therefore ample for the needs of the sick man until the Samaritan could return again. Having committed him to the care of the innkeeper, with the promise, "when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have," the compassionate Samaritan departed.
Spreading out this scene before the eyes of the expert in the law, our Lord puts to him the question, "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, "He who showed mercy on him;" a correct judgment, and one which settled at once the great principle of moral relationship between man and man.
It was not possible for our Lord to take stronger antagonistic elements whereby to illustrate the fusing power of neighborly affection, than the Jew and the Samaritan. There existed between the two peoples, a national hatred of the most implacable kind. The Samaritans had built on Mount Gerizim a temple, in opposition to the one at Jerusalem; they had established a priesthood in rivalry of the Aaronic order; they rejected all of the Sacred Scriptures but the five books of Moses; they paid no heed to the tradition of the elders, which the Jews so tenaciously held; and though, according to the glosses of the Pharisees, the Jews might buy from the Samaritans, they were not to borrow anything from them, were not to receive them into their houses, were not to accept from them any kindness, and were bound under an anathema not to eat or drink with them. Thus, as the woman of Sychar truly said to Jesus as he sat at Jacob's well, "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans;" and thus also, when the enemies of our Lord wished to stigmatize Him with the most contemptuous epithet, they termed him "a Samaritan who had a demon!"
When, therefore, Jesus selected, as the representative of that love which he would inculcate, the deeds of a despised Samaritan, and when he compelled Jewish lips to utter praises to the compassion and kindness of this "alien and stranger to the commonwealth of Israel," he gave expression in the most forcible form possible, to the broad, binding, universal nature of that second table of the Law, which Himself had summed up in the command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Those who, like Origen in the early ages of the Church, search for a hidden and mysterious sense under the plain and literal text, interpret this parable in reference to the fall and recovery of man. Such is the explanation made by Luther and Melancthon, in former days; by the Baptist commentator John Gill, by the learned Jones of Nayland, and by the recent work of Trench, to say nothing of minor and uninfluential authorities.
These writers differ about many of the details of the parable--but their general views may be thus expressed: The "certain man" is "Adam as he is the head and representative of his race." The going "down from Jerusalem to Jericho" is emblematical of his going out from Paradise into a world of thorns and briars. His falling "among thieves" indicates the malignant powers of Hell, who assail the sinner and rob him of his heavenly birthright. His being stripped "of his clothing," marks his despoliation of the robe of original innocence. His "wounded" state shows the work of sin upon man, which makes him, "from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, to be full of wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores, which have neither been healed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." Their "leaving him half dead" exemplifies the fact that Adam did not die in body the day in which he sinned--but that having pronounced against him the sentence of death, he may in truth have been declared "half dead." By the Priest and Levite is meant the Patriarchal (as in that age each head of the family was priest in his own house) and the Levitical dispensation, which, of themselves, could do nothing to recover lost man, "for it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin." "But what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh," was at length effected by Him whom the Jews called "a Samaritan," even Jesus Christ. The journey which He took was that of His incarnation, by which He "traveled in the greatness of His strength" from Heaven to earth, and coming in the capacity of a Great Physician, He had oil and wine. The wine of His own cleansing and purifying blood, and the oil of His own anointing grace, which heals all our infirmities. He is said to set him on His own animal, because of man's own inability to move by himself in the direction of his salvation. His being brought to an inn represents his admission to the visible Church; the ministry is "the innkeeper." The Old and New Testaments "are the two denarii" which this "Host" is to expound and administer as being steward of the manifold grace of God.
Such is the drift of these ingenious interpretations. They are very prettily wrought up, and, to some extent, perhaps, profitable; but such imaginations will not admit of a close scrutiny, and lead us away from the real intent of our Lord when he spoke the parable.
There may very often be parallels and coincidences between these beautiful similitudes and certain other truths of Scripture history, or doctrines of revelation--but these must not lead us astray from the plain design of the parable, which, in nearly every instance, can be ascertained by carefully studying its context and its bearing.
The plain import of this parable seems to be to teach us the necessity of actively obeying the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," as an essential prerequisite to inheriting eternal life.
It urges us to this duty, first, by showing that benevolence is not to be circumscribed by national boundaries. Because the ancient Jews were prohibited from being familiar with idolatrous nations, and were enjoined to maintain a perpetual enmity with Amalek and the seven nations of Canaan, whom God had cast out before them and devoted to ruin--they came to regard themselves as warranted to hate all of mankind but their own nation; and did, in a great degree, confine their love and regard to their own kindred and people. As the Jews were, in an especial manner, the chosen people of the one living and true God--so were they particularly required to hate the ways and uproot the idolatries of the Canaanite nations, who were ever striving to seduce them from the worship of Jehovah.
On this point, the Divine injunctions were rigorous and inflexible; and properly so, because, as familiarity with sin lessens the hatred of it; and fellowship with transgressors insensibly begets a following in their steps; hence, God would break off all fellowship with such wicked nations, that He might preserve "unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Yet at the same time, the laws which God enjoined upon the Jews, in respect to strangers who happened in their land as travelers, or who came to sojourn there, were of the most lenient and tenderly protective kind. "You shall not oppress the stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing that you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
The time, however, had now arrived for breaking down this national seclusion. The purpose of God, in fencing off the Jews from other nations, and constituting them emphatically a theocracy, had been accomplished. The Messiah had come. The Christian dispensation was opening up to view, and that dispensation was not designed for one nation or people only--but for the whole world. Christianity knows no geographical boundaries, no limits, no barriers of language, customs, climates, pursuits. It recognizes no distinctions of gender, of color, of estate, of education. It represents us all as of one blood, the offspring of a common Father, for whom is provided a common Redeemer, and before whom lies a common death, a common judgment, a common eternity.
To meet this wonderful enlargement of God's scheme of grace, which lay folded up in the Jewish theocracy, as the germ in the seed corn--there was required a new promulgating and a more vigorous enforcement of the duties of the second table of the Divine law. That promulgation of the law our Savior made when He summed up the decalogue in two commands, on which He told us hung "all the law and the prophets." And that vigorous enforcement of this second great command, our Savior made in the touching parable now before us. And what our Lord thus taught--He practiced. National boundaries did not circumscribe his compassion. The Roman centurion, the Syro-Phoenician mother, the woman of Samaria, partook of His benevolence. And herein He has left us an example not to permit our charities to be pent up within the narrow bounds of our own state or nation--but, overleaping these, to find in every child of Adam, no matter what his birth, his education, his position, his abode--a "neighbor," an object of regard, and, if need be, of compassion.
The acknowledgment of the expert in the law, that he who had "showed mercy" to the wounded man, had most proved himself a neighbor, even though he was a Samaritan. And the solemn injunction, "Go and do likewise;" make it imperative on us to practice similar compassion to all our race, and like liberality of mind and heart and purse.
The parable teaches us, secondly, not to circumscribe our benevolence by our religious sympathies.
Those of the same "household of faith" may have more claims upon our kindness--but not to the exclusion of others. The Apostle's injunction is, "Do good unto all men;" and he adds, because of the nearer affinity into which religion draws us, "especially unto those who are of the household of faith."
Nothing could exceed the bitterness of the religious enmity between the Jew and the Samaritan. With rival temples, rival priests, rival altars, rival sacrifices, rival kingdoms--each stigmatized the other as idolaters, and waged mutual persecutions with a deadliness of hatred peculiar to religious animosities. Yet in this parable, the wounded Jew, whom the Priest and Levite of his own nation heeded not in the hour of his extremity--was succored and relieved by the hated Samaritan. He did not stop to calculate the force of his religious differences; he did not pause on his journey to taunt and revile this helpless Jew; but, as soon as he saw his necessitous condition, "he had compassion on him."
Religious differences, then, should have nothing to do with enlarged Christian benevolence. Sectarian charity is selfish charity, because based on motives of personal or denominational aggrandizement. Had the Samaritan thus reasoned--he never would have relieved the plundered Jew. Had Jesus thus thought--he never would have spoken this parable; for this rebukes that narrow spirit, and inculcates a broad philanthropy which disregards the fences and boundaries of sects and denominations, and which is willing to expend itself on everyone who needs attention, because each sufferer whom our charities can reach, is the "neighbor" whom we are bound to relieve.
He who confines his benevolence within the limits of his religious creed . . .
casts dishonor upon the God whom he pretends to worship,
disregards the plain commands of the Bible, and
manifests a narrowness of mind and illiberality of spirit, degrading to the Christian name!
This parable teaches us, thirdly, not to limit our sympathy and benevolence by personal friendships. Between the Jew and the Samaritan there was no social fellowship. The Jew cursed the Samaritan publicly in the synagogue; declared that he who received one into his house was laying up curses for his children; and would no more eat of their food than they would taste swine's meat! And this enmity, manifesting itself through all the minute fellowship of adjoining nations, was fully reciprocated by the Samaritan, who sought in every way to annoy and vex the Jew. But all this weighed nothing in the case before us. Nor should such personal considerations weigh with us.
In his sermon on the mount, our Lord remarked, "You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor--and hate your enemy;" this was the moral code of the Pharisees and Scribes, in which God's law had been mutilated by human traditions; but Christ recovers His law from these Talmudic perversions, by the authoritative command, "But I say unto you: love your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you."
This is the sublime morality of the Gospel, so contrary to the spirit of the Jews; and the reason which Christ gives for its exercise is as sublime as the precept: "That you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Let your kindness be as limitless and as unconstrained by personal feelings--as God's; for it is a necessary qualification to our being the children of God, that we should love our enemies.
The hate of men--we must meet with love, their cursing--with blessing, their spite--with goodness, their persecution--with prayer. The kindness and sympathy of Jesus were not restricted within the circle of his immediate friends: "He went about doing good" to all classes, in all places, at all times, under all circumstances; yet often "had nowhere to lay his head;" often "was hungry;" often "wearied," and always "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
He went even to Samaria, and there opened living fountains in the hearts of those who heard and believed on Him, even though at first rebuffed and almost insulted. In the very hour of his betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane, He imparted healing mercy to one of that midnight band who had gone out to bind Him! And on the cross He gave pardon and life eternal to the thief who--but a short time before, was reviling His holy name!
The broad command, then, enforced by this parable, and corroborated by the other teaching of Jesus Christ, is, that we are to show kindness, mercy, and charity--irrespective of nation, kindred, friendship, or creed. That each man has a claim upon his fellow man--both by the common law of humanity and the superadded law of God.
In what an elevated position does this parable place the Christian dispensation! How nobly it contrasts, on the one hand, with the spirit of the Jews, whose hatred of other nations called out the reproaches of Tacitus and Juvenal and Diodorus Siculus; and, on the other hand, with the tenets of the best and wisest of the heathen philosophers, with whom . . .
revenge was a virtue,
forgiveness of injuries a weakness,
and love of enemies unknown.
All human philosophies fall short, far short, of the Divine teaching of Jesus, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you;" for they all are founded on selfishness--while Christian love is based on the manifestations of a Divine love, and its required imitation by those who would be called "the children of God." But this true spirit of love can be found only in hearts renewed by the Holy Spirit.
It is not the product of natural amiability; it does not result from the gushings of human sympathy; it is not evoked by tender education. It is only as we love Christ--that we can love all men in Christ, and for Christ. If we indeed love Him with all our heart--we love everything which He loves; and everything which engages His affection becomes magnified in importance and invested with new interest to us. When, therefore, we mark how deeply and self-sacrificingly He loves our race, how much affection and labor and care and blood He has expended on it--surely we find the highest possible motives for loving our fellow men.
Love for them filled the Divine heart of Jesus; love for them evoked the mightiest operations of the Holy Spirit; love for them called forth the highest reach of the love of God the Father--and are we most God-like when we imitate Him in manifesting a holy and sanctified affection towards our fellow men. Hence that strong assertion of John, "If a man says, I love God--and hates his brother; he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen--how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
This parable also furnishes a great missionary argument; not by way of direct precept--but by induction. If the law of Christ's Gospel requires us to love our neighbor, to the extending to him of all needed support for the supply of his physical necessities--then surely it requires, with all the added force of the supereminent value of the soul over the body, that we should love the souls of our neighbors, and give them the spiritual supports which they need for salvation.
And as the word "neighbor" has been so broadened as to comprehend all mankind, irrespective of creed, color, country; so must our love, if we would have it co-extensive with Gospel requirements, go out world-wide; so must it busy itself about the millions of our race who are now lying "half dead" in sins. So must we, like the Samaritan, give to them those means of grace, and those aids in securing eternal life, which God has put in our power. So should we seek to bring them to the "Inn," the Church, and thus show forth our love to Christ, by evincing tenderest love for those who are yet unblessed with Gospel light, and uninvited by the offers of salvation.
He is not a true lover of his race, who draws back or refuses to come up to the missionary work; for, as mankind can only be made holy, and consequently happy, through the applied blood of the cross, as this blood of cleansing can only be applied through faith in the Lord Jesus, and as he can be believed on only as he is preached to the nations--so a true philanthropy, that which strikes down to the root of things, is that which would exert itself to send out living preachers or Bibles into all the corners of the earth, until all should know the Lord, from the rising to the setting sun. Christ's heart was a missionary heart, and everyone who has Christ formed within him the hope of glory, has a missionary heart also.
In conclusion, though we do not believe in the fanciful interpretation of this parable, to which we have alluded, we may at least use it as illustrative of the exceeding love of our Lord Jesus for us miserable sinners. If we admire the conduct of the Samaritan--then infinitely more must we admire the love of Christ. He beheld us robbed of the image of God, wounded by sin, lying helpless in our fallen humanity. And when we were so dead in iniquity that we could not help ourselves; when the Patriarchal dispensation stalked by on the other side, and offered no help; when the Levitical dispensation came and looked on us through its shadowy ceremonies, and then, leaving us in our blood, passed by also on the other side--then Christ came, and though we were His enemies, He pitied us, bound up our mortal wounds, by the oil and wine of Divine grace; Himself bore our infirmities, took the whole charge of our cure, and healed us, not like the Samaritan, by giving money from His bag--but
blood from His heart, riven by the soldier's spear;
blood from His head, drawn out by His thorn-crown;
blood from His hands and feet, started by the spikes of the accursed tree; and by this precious blood-shedding, He obtained for us relief from our enemies, spiritual health here, and life eternal beyond the grave!