The Parables of Jesus - Lesson 5

By John Harrison

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Objectives: By the end of this lesson the learner will be able to:

  1. Explain important background information that will enhance the accuracy of understanding who are the main characters and what actions they display.
  2. Identify what issues a 1st century Jewish audience would focus on after hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  3. Analyze the lessons conveyed allegorically by the main characters.
  4. Evaluate applications of the major lessons to contemporary situations. O/H 1

Teaching Aids and Materials:

  1. Easy to understand Bibles for every student (CEV, RSV, NAV, NIV, NRSV, etc.)
  2. A chalkboard, marker board, or overhead projector.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 8-10 minutes)

  1. Begin class by welcoming members and any visitors; make all necessary class announcements; songs.
  2. Lead the class in a prayer that will include asking God to help them be responsible and obedient in what work God entrusts to us.
  3. Q: Who would like to share their experience of increasing this week a "talent"? (Allow 2-3 learners to respond.)
  4. Explain to the learners that in the last episode of the T.V. show "Survivor" one ousted member told one of the finalists that if she saw her on the side of the road dying, she would not help her. (Ask if anyone saw that episode and what their reaction was to it.) Q: What factors often influence to whom we chose not to be compassionate? (Allow 2-3 learners to respond.) A: Some examples could be such things as race, religion, social status, or even gender.
  5. Share with the learners the lesson objectives. O/H 1
  6. Have someone read Luke 10:25-37.

Learning Experiences: (about 20-25 minutes)

Part I: Define Background information for understanding the main characters

Explain to the learners that many scholars label this parable and three others in Luke [the Rich Fool (12:16-21); Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31); and the Pharisee and Tax Collector (18:9-14)] as "example narratives". Rather than making a comparison between what is told in the story and some other reality, they set out a specific example for Jesus' disciples to follow or avoid. Q: To whom and why does Jesus offer this parable? A: To a lawyer (one trained in interpreting and teaching the law of Moses and Jewish traditions) who was seeking to "justify" himself (because he believed he was obeying this command by loving other Jews) when he asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?". Q: Why would the lawyer think the word "neighbor" needed explained? A: Leviticus 19:18 commands that Israelites loves their neighbors but then suggests that by "neighbors" God means other Israelites. The lawyer wants to be reassured that by loving those he calls neighbor (other Jews) that he is obeying the commandment. Explain to the learners that Jews who heard this story would know that the road from Jerusalem (at 2,700 feet upon sea level) that went down to Jericho (at 820 feet below sea level and only 17 miles away) was known to be dangerous and vulnerable to thieves. According to Josephus (a 1st century Jewish historian), some Jews carried weapons to protect themselves from bandits (see his book Jewish Wars 4.8.3). Q: Most people know what a priest is, but what is a Levite? A: Levite (men from the tribe of Levi) assisted priests (men who also came from the tribe of Levi but were descendants of Aaron as well) with the sacrifices by preparing the animals and grains to be sacrificed (see Numbers 3-4 and 1 Chronicles 23). Q: Who are the Samaritans? A: These people are the descendants of the intermarriage between the tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) and the immigrants who were brought there by the Assyrians who had conquered it in 722 B.C. Jews held them in contempt (even equated with Gentiles) because in their eyes they had turned their backs on traditional customs and observances of the law. The Samaritans developed their own Pentateuch and for a while had their own temple on Mt. Gerizim (John 4:9). Today, there still exists about 500-600 Samaritans.

Part II: Issues raised in the minds of a Jewish audience

Q: Are there any startling or ironic details in this story? (allow 2-3 responses) A: There are several. First, it may have been startling to some Jews that religious figures like a common Levite and priest would be so callous as to by pass a man in need. [Note: It would be helpful to explain to the learners that the phrase "half dead" does not mean that he appeared dead. If that was so then the Levite and priest would be justified in not touching what they thought was a dead person and become ritually defiled. The phrase "half dead" means that he is evidently alive but in need of serious help.] Then again it may not be so startling to some Jews that members of the priesthood would act this way because they thought that the priesthood was corrupt. Second, the hero of the story is a Samaritan rather than a Jew. Upon an initial hearing of the parable, a Jewish audience may have expected that after two supposed pious leaders refuse to do the right thing that a Jew who was not a significant religious figure would come and do the right thing. Third, it is ironic that the unclean Samaritan should use oil and wine to help heal the man because oil and wine were used frequently in Temple sacrifices. Priests and Levites would use them to offer up gifts to God in the sacrifices but they would not use them to offer up a gift to God in the form of an act of compassion. Q: Who in the story acts shamefully? A: Obviously the thieves do, but central to the story is the fact that the priest and the Levite who were returning from their shift of duty at the temple (because they are going "down" from Jerusalem rather than going "up" to it) should ignore the injured man. Explain to the learners that tension is created in the story by the fact that the man is "half-dead" and stripped of his clothes. He is probably too weak to indicate who he is and he is not wearing clothes that would help indicate his ethnic or religious heritage. If the priest or Levite were to assist him, they would have to take the risk that he is a Jew. Q: Did Jesus answer the lawyer's question? A: Not really. While the lawyer wanted a definition for "neighbor" so as to determine the extend of his legal obligations, Jesus address a new question, "Which person was a neighbor to the man?" The question Jesus thought the lawyer should really be asking is not "Who do I not have to love?" but "How can I love anybody and so define myself as a neighbor?"

Part III: Lessons from the main characters

Explain to the learners that the main characters in the story are the victim, priest, Levite and Samaritan. We should not do as Augustine did and try to find symbolic references behind nearly every detail. In a famous allegorical interpretation of this parable, Augustine wrote that the victim = humanity, the thieves = devil, the phrase "half dead" = mortality, the priest and Levite = Old Covenant, the Samaritan = Christ, the oil = baptism, the wine = the eucharist, the beast = four gospels, the inn = the church, and the innkeeper = Paul. He wanted the entire parable to retell the story of salvation. Q: What are the primary lessons conveyed by the actions of the main characters? A: (1) Citizens of the kingdom know that to obey God they must show compassion to others regardless of any religious or social differences; (2) Foreigners to the kingdom think that they can still obey God's will by excusing their lack of compassion to those in need based on a slanted interpretation of scripture; (3) Even one's enemy is one's neighbor.

Part lV: Contemporary Applications of the main lessons

Q: If Jesus parable were retold today, who would replace the priest, Levite and Samaritan? (Allow several learners to give suggestions.) A: Be prepared to offer your own suggested replacements to get the learners' imagination started. Generally what you are looking for is the learner to see that one cannot be obedient to God simply by fulfilling ceremonial or religious commandments alone while ignoring God's law to show compassion to everyone in need. Q: Who can give an example where a person's sense of compassion might collide with their sense of justice? In other words, are their situations where it might seem that the just thing to do is to show no compassion? A: If a person is guilty of a crime, they should be lawfully punished and suffer the consequences set for them by the courts. However, this does not mean that a Christian must refrain from offering the criminal compassion for any injuries they may acquire outside of their punishment.

Application: (about 5-10 minutes)

  1. Ask the learners to fill out handout 1 "Parable of the Good Samaritan" by listing three examples of the kind of people for whom they find it hard to have compassion. Then ask 2- 3 learners to share with the class what's on their list. Their list may have examples of people from various ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds. Have 2- 3 learners share what they put on their handout.

Assignment: (about 2 minutes)

  1. Take one of those groups of people on your list or someone you have strong negative feelings towards and think of some way this week you can show compassion for a physical need they have.

Lesson Wrap-up

Review the lesson objectives. Let them know the title of next weeks lesson: Building a Tower and Going to War

Overhead 1

Lesson Objectives

  1. Describe important background information that will improve the readers' understanding of this parable.
  2. Identify what issues a 1st century Jewish audience would focus on after hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  3. Identify the major lessons conveyed allegorically by the main characters.
  4. Make applications of the major lessons to contemporary situations.

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