This week's Gospel reading contains what may be the most famous parable Jesus ever told. While some might give the Prodigal Son that title, I would be hard-pressed to say that it is more well-known than the Good Samaritan. While both titles have taken on life of their own as pop-culture examples (you can be called both a Prodigal and a Good Samaritan depending on context), I would argue that there are probably more references to being a Good Samaritan.
There are lots of takes on this particular parable which does make it interesting for sermon interpretation.
As I was re-reading it, I thought that Luke (only author to use this parable) might be foreshadowing the fate of Jesus as he seeks to expand our understanding of the Christian mission. I believe that Luke's Gospel would have been written to the churches in the Mediterranean world rather than in Judea. This would mean a much broader audience and a wider variety of cultures than a more Jewish context. As the Church expands into Gentile territory, Christianity must reflect a greater appreciation for the types of people that it will seek to evangelize.
Most Christians have heard many times over about how the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies. It would have been a surprise to see the Samaritan cast in the hero's role. The lawyer can't even bring himself to utter "Samaritan" when Jesus asks him which was the noble person in the story.
Sometimes when we offer a helping hand,
we find that we are holding onto resurrection.
The priest and the Levite who avoid tending to the injured man could also refer to the factions of Judaism that ignored Jesus as the Messiah. The Samaritan who provides for the man could represent the Gentiles who are now embracing Jesus as the Christ in Luke's day.
Interestingly enough, the first person to acknowledge the righteousness of Jesus following his death was a Gentile in Luke 23:47: "When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, 'Certainly this man was innocent.'”
Of course, this allegorical interpretation is only one way to look at the parable. That's the beauty of the stories of Jesus - they are worthy of much discussion and we find a great multitude of truths contained within them. The Good Samaritan should always challenge us and just when we think that we are getting it right, it should remind us that we may have a ways to go.
I hope you'll join us this Sunday (or online at your convenience) as we encounter this most famous of parables once more. Even though we may know it well, it is surely worth another listen so that we may continue to be shaped by it.
Photo by Vicki DeLoach via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.