Getting the Real Point of the Good Samaritan Story

In France: A Fabric Torn a prominent pastor wrote about the attacks in Paris:

Now is a time for France — and all of us — to hear the words of Jesus, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem [or Paris]? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3-4).

But to lay this passage upon the hurting people of Paris is to take Jesus’ words completely out of context. Jesus didn’t say those words to people who had just suffered the worst day of their lives. He was talking to a crowd who chose to listen to what he had to say about God.

When Jesus did talk about people who are hurting he said we are to care for them, not that we are to evangelize them. In fact, there is not a word of evangelism in his most well-known story on the subject.

Good Samaritan

Image source Wikimedia

There may be opportunities to share the gospel, but when someone experiences a disaster our first response is not to be “Let me tell you how much you need Jesus.” Our first response is to be “I am here for you.”


Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37.)


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21 Responses to Getting the Real Point of the Good Samaritan Story

  1. keriwyattkent says:

    It is astonishing to me how many Christians are overcome by fear of refugees, and are absolutely hateful toward all Muslims. Jews hated Samaritans, because of their race, because of their faith. They miss the point of Jesus making the hero of the story: your neighbor is the one who is different from you, the one you fear and despise. Read the story but substitute “Syrian Muslim” for the word “Samaritan” each time occurs. then, as Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
    Not only that, it is the Samaritan who ministers to the Jew in this case. We’re not just to love Samaritans (people we fear and despise)–we are supposed to let them love us!! (read the story, that’s the “likewise” Jesus tells us to do!) (Mark Buchanan first pointed this out to me in one of his books).

    • Tim says:

      Buchanan’s insight is golden, Keri. And you’re right about the substitution; put in the name of any modern pariah and there you have it.

  2. Kevin Mason says:

    keriwyattkent: I do not think people hate or fear refugees, it is the terrorists who infiltrate legitimate refugees that cause normal people to become concerned. I doubt the person helped by the Samaritan would have strapped TNT to his body and blow himself up killing as many innocent people as possible. The reality in this world is that not all people are good people and some are willing to blend in with real refugees in effort to infiltrate other countries and then commit acts of terror. The important question becomes… How do countries sort out the true refugees from the terrorists pretending to be refugees.

    Read the story but substitute “homicidal terrorist” for the word “Samaritan”. Would you invite a homicidal terrorist to live with you and your children? If not, then why should they be allowed to live in communities with other families with children? If everyone claiming to be a refugee was truly a refugee, then no problem. But evil has sought to use the refugee status to allow access into countries where evil will then attempt to destroy the lives of others. There needs to be discernment and thorough screening when bringing “refugees” into a new country, a system that will hopefully be effective in sorting the true refugees from the terrorist infiltrators.

    • Tim says:

      My point in this post is that if someone needs help you help them. It’s not a post about being able to tell good people from bad people, nor is it concentrating on what to do only for those people who are refugees, but more generally of helping the person God has put in your path today. We are to do that with compassion. Unfortunately, I saw a post from a prominent writer/pastor who said the main thing about dealing with people suffering a disaster is to evangelize the hurting. The Good Samaritan story says that is not our main purpose in helping the hurting.

      (I don’t know the logistics of solving a refugee crisis, Kevin, and I’ll let Keri respond if when likes on that matter.)

    • Keri says:

      If a homicidal terrorist wanted to come to the United States, why would they choose to take the path subject to the most government scrutiny and checks? Why not just get a tourist visa or student visa? The refugees are fleeing from terrorists. refugee and terrorist are not synonyms and to imply that is fear mongering

      • keriwyattkent says:

        Also, “the terrorists who infiltrate refugees” is a statement itself based on fear, and indeed, suggested by the terrorists themselves, in order to scare us into rejecting refugees. A person who has been told “we don’t want your kind here” is much easier for ISIS to recruit. A person who has heard “we see your pain and want to show God’s love to you” might have a different viewpoint. Is this a guarantee? Nope. There are no guarantees. Love anyway, as Mother Teresa said.

      • Kevin Mason says:

        Homicidal terrorists will use any and every means available, there is much greater scrutiny for tourist visas and academic visas than refugee visas because refugees usually lack the documentation requirements that are required for other types of visas. True refugees deserve our help, homicidal terrorists are infiltrators pretending to be refugees hoping to abuse the sympathy of those wanting to help the true refugees. We are to be discerning and do what ever possible to assure that those seeking entrance are true refugees from those who wish to hurt and destroy. Blind compassion will permit the entrance of evil whose primary intent is to destroy and kill.

        • Tim says:

          No one here has suggested blind compassion even obliquely. Compassion is best exercised with eyes wide open. It’s fear that can blind us, not compassion.

        • Kevin Mason says:

          Tim I would suggest that excessive fear and excessive compassion can blind a person from reality. sometimes excessive compassion leads to gullibility and opportunism on the part of those receiving the compassion. It requires discernment to see the difference between need and greed. The book “When Helping Hurts” addresses well intended yet misguided compassion. When excessive compassion is granted to those who are truly in need, it might lead to dependence and entitlement. But, terrorists are a completely different animal. excessive compassion may lead to many people being hurt or killed. Terrorist blending in as refugees greatly raises the need for clear discernment. Sorting those who are need versus terrorist is a major challenge, one that has horrific consequences if wrong.

  3. Emmy says:

    I must admit this post puzzled me, Tim, because I’ve never heard the parable of the good Samaritan taught as if it had to do with evangelism. I gather from an earlier comment you made that this has been done recently, though. Such a strange thing to do.

    An earlier comment that you made reminded me very clearly of James 2:15-16: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”. I think the point here, which I find echoing in your post and comments as well, is that while everyone needs Jesus and the gospel, our words about a loving, merciful, gracious and caring God who knows and understands us will ring hollow unless we are also at least trying to be loving, merciful, gracious and caring people who want to get to know and try to understand the people we meet, whoever they may be, so that we may help them. It is part of what we’re called to do, as the body of Christ and light and salt to this world.

    So thank you for posting this. I pray it will correct and encourage your readers, as needed.

  4. Pingback: Wise as serpents, harmless as doves? | Keri Wyatt Kent

  5. Jeannie says:

    Oh, THAT “prominent pastor.” Riiight.

    Just this week I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s new book Rising Strong, and in it she discusses a concept I found really helpful. She calls it BIG: Boundaries, Integrity, and Generosity. By Generosity she means trying to look at others’ intentions/actions in the best possible light. Integrity she defines as doing what we know is right, not what is safe or easy. And Boundaries are simply “What is OK, and what isn’t OK.” She says it’s essential to have these 3 in balance. It struck me that this could be a helpful way to look at the refugee situation: assume the best of others (not starting from a stance of fear); set guidelines (thoughtful assistance, not “blind compassion” as referenced above); and do what is right (what does God tell us to do? what does He seem to care about?).

  6. I think the post you’re responding to reflects one of the problems within some areas of Christianity. There are thoughts out there where something is only worthwhile if it results in evangelism. So helping someone to simply help someone is viewed with suspicion or as like taking the easy way out because the gospel isn’t directly shared. I certainly don’t know the best course of action regarding the refugee crisis, but I do think we as Christians are called to love our neighbors and that our neighbors are always much broader than we feel comfortable with. Sometimes I think we doubt how much God can use doing good for someone else.

    • Tim says:

      I remember reading one blog where the team of writers posited that no one should help non-Christians unless there was an evangelistic aspect to it. They completely ignored Galatians 6:10 which instructs us to do good to people outside the faith. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

      • Wow. That’s really sad.What gets me is that often, at least in my own experience, this would be said by people who claim to take a strict literal approach to the Bible. I just don’t really understand how you can claim that and ignore verses like Galatians 6:10, The Good Samaritan, or Matthew 25:31-46. Those all present some major difficulties to such a view.

  7. This is a thought provoking point. Thanks for making it! Also, I noticed when I wrote on this parable recently, that the Samaritan made sure that the injured man would continue to receive help when he wasn’t there, paying the innkeeper to assure this (spending his money to help someone who would not be right in front of him). And, he didn’t make sure that the innkeeper “had the same convictions” as he did. Interesting!

    My parents were missionaries in Ethiopia for a few years in the 70s. There was a famine there (not sure if it was during their time or not), and the mission they were with was doing famine relief. They made a point of feeding the people *first* and preaching the Gospel later. Their reasoning was that people couldn’t think properly when they were starving, and that they might “convert” for the purpose of gaining the food they needed. This applies to a multitude of scenarios.

    One thing that disturbs me is how sensitive some Christians get over this parable in relation to the present situation. It reminds me of a verse just before the parable that you didn’t include here:
    Luke 10:29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
    If we need to ask, we probably are on the wrong track.

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