The other day I was walking through the city with a young friend who is trying to find his way in a new country. He’s a farmer from a hot-climate country where he never even saw his breath. He’s in for a rude shock.
As we walked to the office of an employment service, he announced in his lilting English, “When I get a job and make some money, I want to be able to help other people.” A few minutes later he was doing just that, taking funds from his meager refugee claimant allowance to mail a work permit application for another refugee who couldn’t afford to send it off himself.
This gesture made me think of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, and that makes me think of other biblical references to the Samaritans.
The Samaritans were treated with contempt by the Jews of Jesus’ day because they were viewed as Jewish wannabes, half-breed syncretists who combined Jewish tradition with Assyrian paganism. In John 8, Jesus was even accused of being a demon-possessed Samaritan–possibly the most insulting epithet the Jews could think of. (Joh 8.48) But an examination of the text demonstrates that the New Testament has little negative to say about those Samaritans who play cameo roles in the biblical drama.
The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is presumably a fictitious character, one invented by Jesus in a parable to prove a point. An upstart lawyer had asked Him, in a discussion about the two greatest commandments, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told this story to teach him that his neighbour was whichever person to whom he chose to be a neighbour. The Samaritan, disdained by the Jews, proved to be the compassionate and generous neighbour to a Jew in need. Jesus’ story struck at the heart of the lawyer’s ethnocentric self-righteousness.
Only one of the ten lepers healed by the Lord in Luke 17 returned to thank Him for His mercy. He was a Samaritan. Jesus, calling him a “foreigner”, publicly acknowledged his gratitude and rebuked the Jews for their lack of faith.
The “Woman at the Well” in John 4 was a bad girl, to be sure. Yet, when she trusted in Christ and accepted His gift of living water, she went and told all her friends. (Predictably, most of them were men.) Many in that Samaritan city believed because of her simple testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” They begged Jesus to stay among them and teach them, and many believed on Him. (Joh 4.39-42)
Later, when the persecution led by Saul of Tarsus scattered the churches in Jerusalem, Philip preached boldly in a Samaritan city the “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”, and many Samaritans believed in Jesus.
Of course there were “Bad Samaritans”. They weren’t any different from anyone else. Yet, the New Testament does not treat the Samaritans with the disdain the Jews thought they deserved because of their mixed ethnicity and corrupted religion.
Many Christians are afflicted with the “Jonah Syndrome”, the idea that there are some who are less deserving of the mercy of God than we. That is an arrogant, ignorant, condescending, self-righteous and utterly false notion.
More than once, the Samaritans put the Jews to shame. A humiliating defeat for the home team.