Generosity Across Ethnic or Racial Barriers

Generosity Across Ethnic or Racial Barriers

The “good Samaritan” parable

The phrase “Good Samaritan” refers to one of the most popular parables of Jesus Christ in the Bible. This parable describes a stranger helping another stranger in critical need of help. When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor,” Jesus coined the “Good Samaritan” parable as His reply to this question. 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ (Luke 10:30-35, ESV).

According to the parable put together by Jesus, a Samaritan man, who was passing by, volunteered to help a man, who had been beaten soundly by robbers, stripped of clothes, and abandoned half-dead on the side of the road. The Samaritan traveler had the choice of ignoring the injured man like other travelers did, or break his journey to provide help in a timely manner with all the resources at his disposal; he did the latter and is remembered for it as the “Good Samaritan.” He exemplifies an ideal neighbor in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

The Samaritan exemplifies an ideal neighbor in the eyes of Jesus.

The Samaritan overcomes ethnic hatred

Jews and Samaritans in Christ’s time did not get along, or even hated each other, according to historical accounts. Their lack of mutual respect and hostile relationship was a result of racial and ethnic prejudice and deep mutual suspicion.

Jesus ensured that His audience heard clearly that the traveler, who stopped and helped the injured man, was a Samaritan. But, in the above passage from Luke’s Gospel, Luke left out the ethnicity of the victim lying half dead. Since, Jesus was telling the parable to an audience primarily made of Jews, it is possible Jesus left out the ethnicity of the injured man because His Jewish audience is likely to assume the victim of the robbers to be one of them, a Jew deserving sympathy.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his very last speech (April 3, 1968), “I have been to the mountaintop,” referred to the Samaritan as, “a man of another race,” as opposed to the race of the injured Jew on the ground.

By choosing to portray a Samaritan man helping a helpless Jew, Jesus highlights to His Jewish audience, not only the obvious acts of generosity of the Samaritan, but also his willingness to overcome his personal ethnic hatred before he could help a Jew. Jesus conveys to His audience that ethnic animosity can be overcome; it should never be an excuse for denying help to a neighbor in need. 

From Jesus’ perspective, regardless of who the injured man was, Jew or Samaritan, the conduct of the “good Samaritan” in the parable would have been the same.

Jesus was accused of many things by the Jewish leaders of His day, and therefore, Jesus casting a Samaritan as a hero to a Jewish audience cannot go unnoticed by the Jews; one more reason for the local leaders to plot to get rid of Jesus. Although, the parable has powerful messages, it could have offended Jesus’ Jewish audience because the act of a Samaritan was glorified as model behavior, while a priest and Levite did not fare well in the parable.

Let us overcome ethnic hatred and exercise generosity

Imagine the Samaritan traveler in the parable failing to overcome his ethnic hatred for Jews; then, he would have continued on his way, while ignoring his neighbor in critical need. Instead, the obvious generosity of the Samaritan stands out, as Jesus intended. In addition, a Samaritan helping an injured, helpless Jew sends a powerful, powerful message, by design.

A Samaritan helping a helpless Jew sends a powerful message.

Jesus included in His parable the failure of a priest and a Levite to reach out and help the injured man, both were men of religious status. They represent leaders, who for whatever reason, failed to be generous and thus enhanced the generosity of the Samaritan by contrast. 

Using this popular parable, Jesus is calling everyone, including leaders, to suppress their racial and ethnic baggage to reach out and serve generously anyone and everyone in need of help, without regard for race or ethnicity.

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Paul Swamidass

Paul Swamidass, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. INTEREST: Leadership training for leaders of Christian organizations. He has published some articles on Christian leadership and contributed to some Christian-leadership training in India in partnership with The Kerusso Institute for Global Leaders

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