The method of interpreting this parable which is usually followed in these times is that of contrasting religious people (the priest and the Levite) with non-religious people (the Samaritan), making the non-religious humanitarian superior to the uncharitable religious person: then construing the whole as an answer to the question of how to inherit eternal life, with the conclusion that the only thing needful in order to inherit eternal life is for one to do good to his fellowmen.
This parable teaches no such thing.
While it is true, of course, that uncharitable and pitiless religious persons cannot be saved, it is likewise true that the unreligious humanitarian is also without hope.
Bertel Thorvaldsen, the great Danish sculptor whose “The Good Samaritan” adorns the rotunda at Johns Hopkins University, depicted the true message of the parable, making Christ the Good Samaritan. Jesus our Lord is the true model of all human behavior, and not the unnamed Samaritan who lavished pity and care upon the victim of robbers on the Jericho road.
ANALOGIES OF THE PARABLE
- The wounded man stands for Adam and all his posterity.
- The descent from Jerusalem to Jericho is the Fall.
- The thieves are the devil and his servants who strip men of their garments of purity and the fear of God.
- The man left half dead shows the result of the Fall in that man was left dead in his body, but immortal in his soul.
- The priest is the Law given through Moses.
- The Levite is the teaching of the prophets.
- The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ himself.
- The inn is the church which receives every kind of men.
- The failure of the priest and the Levite to aid the stricken man shows the inability of the Law and the Prophets to save the souls of men.
- The compassion of the Samaritan shows the loving compassion of Christ himself.
- The Samaritan’s paying all of the charges for the care of the wounded man stands for the fact that Christ paid the total cost of human redemption.
With slight variation, this is the allegorization of this parable as found in Euthymius, who extended the allegory to include the innkeeper as the ruler of the church; but the innkeeper is an inert factor in the parable, bearing no analogy whatever.
This exegesis which has commended itself so heartily to learned and devout churchmen in all the Christian ages deserves at least a more respectful mention than the scornful allusion or contemptuous silence with which it is nowadays too often dismissed.
The mistake of the lawyer lay in the restricted view he had with regard to the identity of his neighbor.
Even if the person in need is of another race or color, if his need is the result of his own folly, or if aiding such a one is fraught with danger, expense, and inconvenience, nonetheless, he is my neighbor.
One of the ministers of Central Church of Christ, Houston, Texas, whose life was ended in a tragic traffic accident in the mid-1930’s, especially loved the parable of the Good Samaritan; and, in the sermon outlines and notes which he left to the church library, James H. Childress left the following poem called, “THE MAN BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD”
It is included here out of respect to a faithful, energetic, and brilliant preacher of the gospel whose genius as a church builder is still attested, forty years after his untimely death, by the fact that a great church still retains as its nucleus many of the faithful souls whom he gathered together in the name of the Lord.
THE MAN BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
In the long, long ago, a traveler came down the road to Jericho; He fell among robbers, who stripped him, and left him dying from many a blow. A priest passed by on the other side; he had no time to spare; A Levite glanced at the wounded man, but left him lying there.
A human being, beaten and robbed, and left by the road to die!
And others content to have it so, and willing to pass him by!
But, lo! another traveler came, a man of a hated race; He came to the victim’s side, and grief and pity were in his face.
He bathed and bound the bleeding wounds of the man by the side of the road; And on his beast of burden placed a different load.
And then to the inn there slowly moved that tiny caravan; That wounded man and the little beast and the Good Samaritan.
His time and his strength and his money too, the Good Samaritan gave, That he might from a cruel death that day his needy neighbor save.
And my prayer is that I may be like the man who mercy showed In the long ago on the Bloody Way to the man by the side of the road. James H. Childress