The Good Samaritan is as much about international politics as it is about neighbors. When most of us think about the “Good Samaritan,” we go back to Sunday School mode and remember being told something along the lines of, “Jews didn’t like Samaritans.” So we simply think this is a case of people that aren’t liked. As you could surmise, I want to push that a bit deeper.
First of all, Samaritans weren’t just disliked or different. Samaritans were the people of Northern Israel that the folks from around Jerusalem really didn’t like. We forget the sense of history that overhangs all events in the Middle East. In this case the Samaritans were the folks that had split off from Judah and created the Northern Kingdom. Not only was there a deep internal divide between North and South, but international politics with Assyrians and Babylonians actually pitted the two nations against each other in battle. Both wrote nasty things about the other (you can always tell whether a prophet in the Old Testament came from the North or the South based on who they were criticizing). And even all these years later, as the Israelites had traded one empire’s oppression for another, there was an underlying animosity between the two.
Not only that, but there was a big disagreement between North and South over how religion was supposed to be lived out. For the South, everything revolved around the temple in Jerusalem. This was God’s Holy Temple. It was THE Holy Temple. In the North that wasn’t necessarily the case. To carry out religious ritual Northerners didn’t want to travel all the way to Jerusalem every time, so the religious system was different (thus the two different religious leaders in the story who do nothing to care for the man in need).
So we have religion and politics—all we need is sex for the perfect trifecta of taboo topics! If you don’t believe me about these divides, here is the bit of information that should seal the deal—the story is set on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho—this would be the road crossing the “Mason-Dixon” line between the North and South, between Israel and Judah, between good “Jews” and Samaritans.
Jesus is taking aim at the divisions that we hold most dear. This is not just about neighbors being unexpected or disliked people. This is a commentary on toxic political and religious systems that have led people to forget that they are always neighbors and should act like it.
So let’s add a modern twist to this. Jesus is talking to a liberal, elitist, democratic, atheist, arugula-chomping, big-city, tort lawyer, and telling him he needs to start taking care of that red-neck, good ole’ boy, gun totin’, evangelical, tea party republican, country bumpkin—and vice versa.
So the question for you—what divisions do you hold most dear? Jesus is telling you to get over them and start taking care of that person on the other side of the religious, political, and cultural divide and start acting like neighbors.