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The Good Samaritan was the subject of a parable told by Jesus of Nazareth, whose message was one of many of Jesus' variations on the theme "don't be a dick." He was a member of the Samaritans, an ethno-religious group in Israel and Palestine.
Some of the subtleties of the story may be lost on the modern reader. In modern western terms, it might be framed thus:
There was this dude with some business to do, that got mugged on the way there. There he was all bleeding and stuff on the sidewalk, and they even took his clothes. Jerry Falwell saw him and crossed the street to avoid him, and so did all the yuppie neoconservative twats walking by. But a Pakistani taxi driver saw him, pulled over and helped him crawl into the back seat. With his frequent flier miles he paid to check the dude into a Holiday Inn. There he cleaned him up and put some ointment on the worst scrapes, and left a breakfast coupon on the nightstand. Now who would you call the righteous dude here?
In other words, the Samaritan part was as important to the story as the good part.
The original story
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
The point of the story
The story is in itself an interesting tale about helping those who are in trouble. The part of the parable that should stand out to the reader is, and hence the "retranslation", that important people from their society walked past the man who was injured, but it was a detested outsider that stopped to help him. In the Jewish tradition, the priests and the Levites were the two highest castes, and held a position in society above that of the injured man. It was, however, someone from outside Jewish society — the man from Samaria — that stopped to help him. This was done to show how far reaching the concept of neighbor was in Jesus' parable.
The whole conversation of Luke 10:25-37 deals with Jesus discussing with a lawyer what one should do to achieve eternal life. His response to this was to love everyone as you would yourself. The lawyer, being your typical nitpicking lawyer, argued over the definition of "everyone", and Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate how far the term "everyone" stretches and how one should go about loving them.
This doctrine, of how good deeds bring eternal life, runs contrary to the American (and not just there) Protestant view that eternal life is achieved only through accepting Jesus as your savior, preached by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Jack Chick, and that good deeds are inconsequential. The bit about not being a dick also tends to escape them.
- Samaritans — the small Middle Eastern ethnic group that are genetically related to Jews