Biblical Archaeology Review 38:1, January/February 2012

Biblical Views: The Many Faces of the Good Samaritan—Most Wrong

By Amy-Jill Levine

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a favorite of both children and adults. The story is told in Luke 10:29–37: A man going from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by robbers who strip him and beat him. A priest and a Levite pass by without helping him. But a Samaritan stops and cares for him, taking him to an inn where the Samaritan pays for his care (see article).

This column is about some appropriate lessons to be drawn from the parable, as well as some that are far-fetched, to say the least. For children, the parable can illustrate universal morals: We should help people who are hurt. It has also been used to warn kids: “Don’t walk by yourself on dangerous roads.” I once heard a sermon go that route.

For adults, the meaning is more profound. It is consistent with the Biblical mandate to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and it follows up on that mandate to insist that the love be manifest in action. It has also been used to instruct: Not only must we love our enemies, but also we should provide free medical services to foreign nationals. I heard a sermon go that route as well.

As interpretations about dangerous highways and universal healthcare indicate, the parable means different things in different times and places and for different audiences. Appropriation of the text for new contexts is inevitable.

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