by Peter Ditzel
We’ve all heard of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And, we’ve all heard that through this parable, Jesus was teaching that we should show love to our neighbor through self-sacrifice. “Good Samaritan” has even become a term used to describe a helpful or charitable person. According to this common interpretation, the parable teaches that when we see our neighbor in need, we are to help. Yet, if this is what Jesus is saying, it would mean that the half-dead man on the side of the road is the neighbor of the parable, the person in need, the neighbor we are supposed to help.
A fact that is often missed, however, is that Jesus contradicted this accepted understanding by agreeing with the lawyer when he identified the neighbor in the parable as being, not the man in need of help, but the Samaritan who helped him. In fact, there are several difficulties with the standard definition of the parable that, when corrected by the Bible, completely change the meaning from the one assumed. What, then, is the answer to the lawyer’s question in Luke 10:29, “Who is my neighbor?” And who does the good Samaritan in the parable represent?