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The Parable of the good Sam Aritan

August 18, 2011
Sam Aritan

Sam Aritan

The Good Sam Aritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A young black man was going down from one Los Angeles neighborhood to the next, when he was attacked by a neighboring gang. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

A Sociology professor happened to be going down the same street. (He always voted Democrat, favored all government programs that helped the poor, volunteered twice a month a food bank, listened to NPR, recycled, and was a vegetarian.) But when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

So too, an old head (a respected member of the community, a deacon at the Missionary Baptist Church, who worked two jobs to get all three of his kids through college) came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.[1]

But a white man named Sam Aritan (a bank executive, from Beverly Hills, who voted for Tea Party candidates), drove up to the man in his BMW; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on peroxide and Neosporin. Then he put the man in his own car, brought him to a hospital and took care of him. The next day he took out his credit card and gave it to the nurse. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of gangs members?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”


I enjoy re-imagining the parables to fit modern-day situations.

Who would you substitute for the victim, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan? There are a number of ways to rethink this parable for every possible context.

The first two categories of people that walk by are supposed to be people who everyone in society recognizes as “good.” Chances are, many of us identify with one of the first two.

For the first category, I chose the “professor type” because that is who I often identify with most. I do a lot of talking about helping the poor and social justice, but what am I doing practically to serve others? Could it be that our podcasts (about how we can fix the world) are playing so loud in our ears that we don’t hear the man on side of the street who was just beaten by gang members and needs medical attention?

For the second category, I chose someone who many in the first category would see as good: the old head. He is a hard-working man, providing for his family and probably surviving many injustices. He has overcome prejudice, racism, and stereotypes. He helps his children circumnavigate teen-pregnancy, drug dealing, and violence (all the things that keep their peers from making to the “next level”). If only more people in his neighborhood would listen to his wisdom.

But compassion comes from surprising places. It’s the rich bank executive (who never even pretends to be a friend of the marginalized) that stops to help the victim and even goes the “extra mile” to see that he gets proper attention. The victim’s neighbor should have been the “old head” who perhaps lives in close proximity, or the professor, who constantly rails against the government for not doing enough to provide social programs and healthcare. However, the “individualist” from Beverly Hills turned out to be the real neighbor to the victim.


Why does Jesus tell the “expert in the law” that he can inherit eternal life by loving God and loving his neighbor? Is this consistent with Reformation theology? How might Calvin respond to this story?

It seems that certain “law experts” were trying to limit the term “neighbor” to apply only law-practicing Jews. This would justify their lack of compassion towards non-Jews. What then would be the implication of Jesus using a Samaritan (who isn’t fully Jewish and doesn’t keep fully keep the law) to explain what the Torah means by “neighbor”?



[1] “The notion of the “old head” has emerged as a formidable social type in studies of African American, low-income, urban communities. The term refers to men who have had stable work histories and who reflect “mainstream” values concerning work ethic and social conduct.” The old head sees it as his job to “teach, support, encourage, and in effect socialize young men to meet their responsibilities with regard to the work ethic, family life, the law and decency.” (first quote from Alford Young, Jr., second quote is from Elijah Anderson)

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