Almost everyone is familiar with this story, told by Jesus
of Nazareth something like two thousand years ago. So far removed are we in time from that day, and so familiar is this story, that we have lost sight of how utterly shocking a proposition he is making.
We think of it as a heartwarming tale of human kindness, reminding us to always help out a stranger in need. When we understand a bit of the cultural context though, we begin to see why Jesus' words had such a violent effect on his audience. Upon reflection we may even come to feel somewhat unsettled ourselves; and it is then, I believe, that we are closest to the truth.
Deborah909 has given us some of the context below. It is also helpful to know that at this time the Jews and the Samaritans were bitter enemies. His listeners would still recall the horrifying incident when some Samaritans defiled the holy Temple in Jerusalem by scattering the bones of a dead man in the courtyard.
Even at this point, we still may not get it. So try this as an exercise: retell the story to yourself, only change the Samaritan into the person who most pushes your buttons, whom you would normally see as irredeemably evil. The Good Republican. The Good Liberal. The Good Fundamentalist. The Good Atheist. The Good Homosexual. The Good Nazi.
This, Jesus says, is your neighbor. This person, when showing kindness to another, may be a more faithful servant in the eyes of God than the people you most admire, maybe even more than you are.
If you find yourself getting angry, you're probably on the right track.
Luke 10:25-37 (King James Version):
And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
He said unto him, "What is written in the law? how readest thou?"
And he answering said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself."
And he said unto him, "Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."
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."