One of the most interesting analyses of the story of the Good Samaritan is that offered by LDS scholar John Welch. He draws on the teachings of early Christians, such as Origen and Augustine, to argue that the Good Samaritan is more than a simple parable but can be understood as an extended allegory of the plan of salvation. ‘The Good Samaritan: A Type and Shadow of the Plan of Salvation’ can be downloaded from here. You can read a concise version from the Ensign here. Either version is highly recommended.
The picture below is of the ancient road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is very easy to imagine how desolate and dangerous it would be.
James E Talmage comments:
“The road between Jerusalem and Jericho was known to be infested by highway robbers; indeed a section of the thoroughfare was called the Red Path or Bloody Way because of the frequent atrocities committed thereon.”
Elder M Russell Ballard in the October 2001 General Conference said:
Every time I read this parable I am impressed with its power and its simplicity. But have you ever wondered why the Savior chose to make the hero of this story a Samaritan? There was considerable antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans at the time of Christ. Under normal circumstances, these two groups avoided association with each other. It would still be a good, instructive parable if the man who fell among thieves had been rescued by a brother Jew.
His deliberate use of Jews and Samaritans clearly teaches that we are all neighbors and that we should love, esteem, respect, and serve one another despite our deepest differences—including religious, political, and cultural differences.
This is a very pertinent message for us today when it seems that in many parts of the world and many parts of our society there is increasing conflict and tension between those of different faiths, ideologies and cultures.
One of the joys of this parable is that it can be understood in so many different ways. Merlin R Lybbert offered another interpretation:
“I presume that most of us have visualized this parable as requiring our aid to an injured person, even a stranger, who is in need because of an injury or sickness. The beauty of the parables of the Lord is that they have many applications, and thus their teaching value is unending. I would like to suggest an application of the principles taught in this parable to a current setting.
“There are many of God’s children who are wounded or sick in spirit. Many once enjoyed fellowship with the body of the Saints, but for one reason or another are now on the roadside. They are the less active among us. Generally, we know who they are and have association with them in various settings, but because they are not physically sick or injured, we too often play the part of the priest or the Levite and walk by ‘on the other side.’
“In this dramatic parable, Jesus contrasted the response of the two respected religionists with that of a despised citizen of Samaria. There is at least a scintilla of similarity here to an elders president, a high priests group leader, a member of the bishopric, or a home teacher, and to the less-active brother or sister who has fallen inactive by the wayside. Perhaps we do not despise them, but we sometimes ignore them or otherwise disregard them. Each of us can be a good Samaritan by dealing compassionately with these neglected brothers and sisters.
“We can bind up their spiritual wounds by rendering needed service, pouring in the soothing oil of friendship and supplying the soul-healing balm of genuine brotherly and sisterly love. We can set them in our own automobiles and accompany them to our homes and places of worship, devote the necessary time and attention to warmly fellowship them. The good Samaritan spent the night with his wounded friend and stayed with him until satisfied that he was on his way to recovery. Similarly, we ought to become close enough to these less-active brothers and sisters to truly become their friends and support and sustain them while they spiritually heal.
“…Most of us are acquainted with someone who is spiritually ill or wounded, lying on the roadside half dead, and who desperately needs the assistance of a good LDS brother or sister-that is, a Latter-day Samaritan. Our prophet has repeatedly reminded us that rescuing the less active is one of our greatest challenges of service.” (“A Latter-day Samaritan,” Ensign, May 1990, 82)
Perhaps the key message from this parable of selfless service is the Saviour’s injunction: ‘Go, and do thou likewise’. Jesus is telling us to follow the Samaritan’s example by serving those we come into contact with, whether they be friend or stranger or enemy. We are to love them whatever their race, religion or political persuasion. We should give generously and freely of our time, talents and resources to those in need, without expectation of return. President Thomas S Monson wrote:
‘When we walk in the steps of that good Samaritan, we walk the pathway that leads to perfection.’