The parable of the Good Samaritan speaks of at least six key characters: the lawyer, the injured Jew, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the innkeeper. The implied question that Christ answered was, Whom should the priest and Levite regard as neighbor? Assumed in the way that Jesus tells the parable is the idea that, to the Jews, strangers and Samaritans are automatically excluded from this definition. This is inferred in the detail that the man who fell among thieves was none other than a Jew traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.
The pressing question was how to distinguish a neighbor from among their own people. “Contact with the ignorant and careless multitude, they taught, would cause defilement that would require wearisome effort to remove. Were they to regard the ‘unclean’ as neighbors?” (The Desire of Ages, 498). This question lingers today among those who call themselves followers of Christ. Who is worthy to partake of the gifts entrusted to the Christian through the grace of God? The characters in the parable teach us that how we answer the question Who is my neighbor? will declare whether our religion is real or merely a vain profession.
Deformity of a Self-Centered Heart
The purpose of Christ’s parable is to show His people the deformity of a self-centered heart by contrasting it with His unselfish love represented in the actions of the good Samaritan. “The way to dispel darkness is to admit light. The best way to deal with error is to present truth. It is the revelation of God’s love that makes manifest the deformity and sin of the heart centered in self” (The Desire of Ages, 498). The priest and the rabbi claimed to be followers of God. However, when the opportunity presented itself to act out their religion on behalf of an injured countryman, they considered their own safety and convenience instead of the critical condition of a man wounded by an enemy. In so doing, their actions exposed them as lovers of self (2 Tim. 3:2) instead of lovers of God.
Selfishness lies at the very foundation of every sin. It is an attitude completely antagonistic to everything that the kingdom of God stands for. In true education, as in true religion, this attitude cannot co-exist with real success. It is the purpose of real religion and real education to eradicate this trait from the Christian and replace it with a love that “does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).