Parables. Give an account of the content and teaching of the Good Samaritan and the Pharisee and The Tax Collector.

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Caitlin McMillan

Give an account of the content and teaching of the following parables:

(i) the Good Samaritan

(ii) the Pharisee and the tax collector. [35]

Parables feature heavily in the Gospel of Luke; so heavily, in fact, that there are fifteen parables unique to the gospel. Two of these parables are The Good Samaritan and The Pharisee and The Tax Collector. In this essay, the content (that is, the story itself) and the teaching (what Christ intended us to learn) of these parables will be discussed.

The story of the Good Samaritan was prompted by the questions of the ‘expert in the law’, ‘What is it I am to do to be the possessor of eternal life?’ and ‘who is my neighbour?’ Jesus answers the latter with a parable of a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho who is robbed, beaten and left for dead. He is then passed, first by priest, and then a Levite before finally a Samaritan, who, filled with compassion, helps him and takes him to an inn to recover.

The first thing to note about this parable is the road that the man was travelling on. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notoriously dangerous; about seventeen miles long, it wound its way through a lonely desert area with caves that could be used by robbers as hide-outs. It was uncommon for anyone to travel this road by themselves, and it can therefore be said that any trouble experienced by the traveller was a consequence of his own actions – he had no one to blame but himself. Perhaps, therefore (as Barclay claims) the first lesson in this parable is that we must help even those who have brought trouble upon themselves.

Now that the geography has been discussed, what can we learn from the actions of those in the parable? It was a widely-held belief of scholars that one possible reason for the priest and Levite walking past the man, despite noticing him, was that they did not want to become ritually unclean by contact with a corpse (Numbers 19:11) as this would interfere with their temple duties. However, this does not sit easily with the fact that they were travelling away from, rather than towards, Jerusalem.

Another possible reason for their actions was fear of being attacked themselves. It was common for the robbers to use decoys; one of their members pretended to be injured and as someone stopped to help they would be ambushed – it is likely that the priest and Levite were too wary of this possibility to help the injured traveller.

If we take these two explanations to be true, there are two lessons to be learnt by the actions of the priest and Levite: first, we must not put ritualistic teaching before true, Christ-like compassion for others and, second, we must put the needs of others before our own needs.

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At this stage, the parable is turned on its head. The lawyer and others may have expected the third and climactic traveller to be an ordinary Jewish person; however, the shocking cultural twist of the parable is that its hero is a Samaritan, a traditional enemy of the Jews. As Michael Burns puts it, ‘It would have been difficult in Jesus’ day to manufacture a more hated protagonist than a Samaritan. It would be on par with telling this same story in Israel today and having a Palestinian or Iranian take the role of hero,’ (even at the close ...

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