In His provocative Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, Jesus tells how a Jewish man was robbed and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It’s an ancient road still visible and walkable to this day. I’d love to take you there sometime.
A temple priest walks past in Jesus’ story, unwilling to assist a Levite. His priestly assistant also walks past and does nothing. Then a Samaritan turns up and he stops and cares for the man. He bandages his wounds, pays for lodging in a local inn, and returns later to check on the patient and to pay for any further expenses.
Then a Samaritan turns up, he stops and cares for the man. He bandages his wounds, pays for lodging in a local inn, and returns later to check on the patient and to pay for any other expenses. As a result of this parable, we now use the proverbial good Samaritan to mean someone who does similar acts of charity.
But one of the keys to the story in Jesus’ day is that Samaritans were the ethno-religious enemies of the Jewish people. Jesus and his first followers were all Jews. So, by making a Samaritan, not a fellow Jew, the hero of his parable, Jesus was simultaneously critiquing his own people for not living up to God’s Commandments. He was insisting that his followers were to show their compassion across ethnic, cultural, and even religious boundaries.
Some interpret this parable as a metaphor, as if Jesus is the true Samaritan and he came to save us who were left for dead on the side of the road without him. Frankly, and I’m probably going to annoy people here, I think that’s nuts, and certainly a departure from how the parable has been read throughout history. Okay, off my pet peeve there.
Jesus ends the parable with the stark statement, “Go and do likewise.” See, that’s the point. Christians are to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries with their lives, their compassion, and mission.
Christians are to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries with their lives, their compassion, and mission.
This became one of the genuine peculiarities of Christianity from the time of Jesus to today. There were very few specific cultural badges people had to wear in order to be Christian. There was no sacred language that adherents had to learn. There were no dietary laws or dress code. There were no particular careers Christians should avoid apart from their immoral ones, nor were there categories of people, racial, creedal, or even moral that believers shouldn’t eat meals with. After all, Jesus himself would be known as the friend of sinners.
The church also had no distinctive ethnic profile. See, Christianity started for its first five to 10 years amongst Semitic peoples, Galileans and Judeans. But within about 20 years, it was embraced by Indo-Europeans in Asia Minor, Greeks and Italians, as well as North Africans.
Within 200 years, it had spread amongst Arabs, Gauls, that’s the French, the Spanish, and the Celts of Britain. Even today, you’ll find roughly equal numbers of Christians in, say Europe, 26%, Latin America and the Caribbean, 24%, and Sub-Saharan Africa, another 24%.
According to Pew Research, the largest cohort of professing Christians, even in the US today, is women of colour. Crossing boundaries from Jew to Samaritan and far beyond has been a Christian specialty from the beginning.
By John Dickson