The parable of the Good Samaritan is so familiar that we may not realise how shocking it would sound to Jesus’ disciples. Jews and Samaritans hated each other even though they were next-door neighbours (or perhaps because they were neighbours.) For the Jews, the very idea of a ‘good Samaritan’ was outrageous – a contradiction.
Jesus is approached by a lawyer with an awkward question. This man knows the law, and can quote it; ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ But does he know how to live it out? When he asks Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ he expects the Lord to draw lines and set limits. Surely God doesn’t expect us to love everyone? Instead, Jesus tells a parable about a man who sets no limits to his love of neighbour. The priest and the Levite avoid the injured man for fear of defilement, but the Samaritan is ‘moved with compassion’ when he sees the man suffering. The Samaritan doesn’t see a Jew, just a fellow human being, and spends time and money to help him.
This is one of Jesus’ most challenging parables. It teaches us that we can’t reject anyone because of their race or religion. The person we most dislike may prove themselves a good neighbour to us. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus calls us to see only our shared humanity. Everyone is our neighbour.