In telling the parable of The Good Samaritan Jesus appears to have made a tactical blunder. Speaking to Jews, and particularly to a Jewish “lawyer”—who by definition was an authority on Jewish law—Jesus makes the merciful hero of his parable a Samaritan. The “good guy” in the parable is neither the noble Jewish priest nor the official temple working Levite; the “good guy” is the despised Samaritan!
Though the Samaritans in Jesus’ day appeared to live as Jews in an area of the former “northern kingdom” of Israel—the area between the Jewish regions of Judea and Galilee—yet no Jew considered a Samaritan to be at all Jewish. In fact there was a deep rift between Jews and Samaritans—and we are not speaking of a geographic rift. Because of this rift the Samaritans had established their own temple on Mt. Gerazim while the Jews worshiped at God’s Temple in Jerusalem.
The rift began in Old Testament times when God sent judgment upon the hypocritical Jews and allowed their temple—His Temple—to be destroyed and most of the Jews deported to Babylon. After 70 years of captivity in Babylon the now-repentant Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s Temple. Jews who had not been deported and remained behind in the region of Samaria had intermarried with pagans, thus diluting, compromising or even destroying Jewish beliefs. When the Jews returned to rebuild God’s Temple, the Samaritans asked to join them in the task. When the Jews refused their proposed assistance, the Samaritans actually petitioned the king of Assyria to have the building of God’s Temple halted (Ezra 4)! For over 400 years there was such bad blood between Jews and Samaritans that for a Jew to call someone a “Samaritan” was tantamount to cursing him.
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, the Apostle John interjected the explanation, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (Jn. 4:9b). And when the truth spoken by Jesus rubbed the Jewish leaders the wrong way they cursed Him by saying, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (Jn. 8:48). Interestingly Jesus would deny having a demon but he would not deny the appellation of Samaritan.
Though fully Jewish, fully obeying all of God’s laws, yet Jesus is the Samaritan. He would take the position of the hated and cursed man. He would thus be despised and rejected of men, the man of sorrows who journeys to the cross for mankind’s salvation. The crucified Jesus—who thus associated with the broken, forsaken and dying people of this world—now reaches out to just such people. Jesus, not the Jewish priest or Levite, would be the one to show mercy to beaten, robbed and left-for-dead humanity. Only Jesus could apply the sin-healing balm of His Word, including the oil of Baptism and the wine of the Lord’s Supper. Only Jesus would carry His enemy to the “inn” of the church, and there He would provide for continued sustenance and healing. Only Jesus is truly the Good Samaritan.
After Jesus had accomplished mankind’s salvation the Gospel would spread from Jerusalem to Samaria, and the forensically justified people of God would come to realize that the gospel of Jesus heals the rift between Jew and Samaritan—and in fact all feuds and racial rifts are healed as people are united in the crucified and risen “Samaritan”. He showed mercy and now in Him we do likewise, finding in the downtrodden Jesus Himself.