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The History of the Good Samaritan

I am always very interested in stories about charitable people, and have written about many here in this column. But I have not yet researched the story of the most famous charitable person in history. No, it’s not Santa Claus. But, it is another religious-based character: that of the “Good Samaritan.”

The story of the Good Samaritan is derived from the time of Jesus and appears in the Gospel of Luke. Though it is a Christian-based parable, it is a story that can be applied to those of all religions. The story itself is about a Jewish man who was left for dead by robbers, and passed along by both a priest and a Levite. It wasn’t until a Samaritan came along that the man received help. To understand this you have to know that Samaritans and Jews hated each other.

In this parable, you read of a man who wants to better understand how to live according to God’s laws, and so he asks Jesus “What is written in the law?” After Jesus explains that you must love God with your whole heart, he finishes by saying, “and you must love your neighbor as yourself.”

Confused, the man asks, “But who is my neighbor?” And that’s when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In reply Jesus said:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘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 robbers?” The man replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

What I find most interesting about this story is not its religious foundation, but the fact that is speaks to the fact that a basic human instinct to care for those in need, even if those in need are those we disagree with. Where are we as a society if we continue to pass over those dying and hungry, poor and helpless? Can a Catholic man reach out a hand to a Jew? Can a white man make a donation to a black man, and vice versa? They can, of course, but whether or not they do is based on the charity in their hearts.

I am always trying to teach my children that if we are healthy and happy, have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies; we are the only ones strong enough and able enough to help those without. And then, one day if we find ourselves in a position of need, we can hope and pray that those stronger than us will give us the help we need.

Give and you shall receive. Treat others as you wish to be treated. One good hand deserves another or the Good Samaritan – whatever religion or creed or parable you live by, they are all the same.

We are one, and we are none without each other.

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