People like stories. Our lives are stories. We don’t live in the abstract, so it makes sense that Jesus taught in stories. We call them parables, and Jesus intended them mostly for the responsive, not the resistant. He liked to say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Dr. Bernard Ramm taught seminary students that the golden rule of interpreting a parable is to determine the one central truth the parable is attempting to teach. We do not have the luxury of trying to pick apart a parable and make it an allegory since the single point is usually quite evident. An exception is when Jesus unpacks the parable for us, such as the story about planting seeds in different soils.
The central truth of the “Good Samaritan” story is about being a loving neighbor, which might be a better name for it. Jesus spun this tale after agreeing that love of God has implications for how you treat your neighbor. “Who is my neighbor?” the questioner responded, prompting the story telling.
Jesus told it better, but I would summarize the story (Lk 10:25-37) like this. Once upon a time robbers jumped a man, took everything he had, and beat him almost to death. Religious people passed by without helping. A man who came from a generally disrespected class of people went to great personal cost to help the victim. It was an unexpected plot twist in the little story. The religious people (like the ones he was chatting with) were not loving, but the despised man was. Jesus challenged his hearers to note who treated the victim like a neighbor.
So let’s apply the central truth principal. If you want to demonstrate your love of God, then love your neighbor. Your neighbor is someone who has a need that you can meet, and it may be costly. It may be an opportunity to explain to your neighbor that your love of God compels you to be of service.
Jesus wasn’t trying to get to an “A-ha!” moment of intellectual enlightenment. He meant for his hearers to be affected. “Go and do the same,” he challenged. Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself are the Great Commandments according to Jesus (Mat. 22:36-40).
My challenge is for you to consider who your neighbor is, as defined by Jesus. In modern parlance, “paying it forward” or “making a difference” is nice, but why do that? For the Christian, the answer is that it is an expression of faith affecting life. May your story be one that includes faith, love, and neighbors.