Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

The Parable of the Good Samaritan: Implications for the Euthanasia Debate

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

The Parable of the Good Samaritan: Implications for the Euthanasia Debate

Article excerpt

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. `Teacher,' he asked, `what must I do to inherit eternal life?' `What is written in the Law?' he replied. `How do you read it?' He answered: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'"; and, "`Love your neighbor as yourself."' `You have answered correctly,' Jesus replied. `Do this and you will live.' But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, `And who is my neighbor?' In reply Jesus said: `A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. "Look after him," he said, "and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have." `Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, `The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, `Go and do likewise.'(1)

Few stories in the Bible have attracted the attention of the general public more than the story of the Good Samaritan. It has worked its way into our common talk, when we request of others to be "Good Samaritans," and even into the laws of some states, where one has exemption from tort liability in helping injured persons unless gross negligence is involved.(2) Even as we implore people to be Good Samaritans, we find in our experience that we and others often do not reach this lofty goal. Certainly in interpersonal relationships we fail, but these are not life and death situations generally, as is the case of the original parable given by Jesus, nor in the case of the life and death subjects of our day, such as abortion and euthanasia. in the Good Samaritan parable the Master paints a scenario in which the balance was tilted against a beaten and helpless Jewish man who had taken the dangerous trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. In similar fashion today, there are individuals who find themselves hanging between life and death, and the ethic of Jesus poses for us a similar question that Jesus posed to the lawyer in Israel almost two thousand years ago. Persons who are sick, in pain, and often dying are treated with no more sympathy today than the priest and the Levite gave to the man on the Jericho road. Yes, they may have felt something inside, a tinge of guilt, but desired not to be bothered by this man's pain and the inconvenience he would cause them. Some wanting to promote euthanasia speak in caring, humanitarian terms but fail to make the sacrifice of the Samaritan in Jesus' story, who gave comfort, health, and even life to a dying person whom God brought to him that day. The lawyer who asked Jesus concerning the identity of his neighbor places each of us before the teacher who loves, gives succor and life, and bids each of us to do the same.

The Setting and Literary Nature of the Parable

In Luke 10:25-11:13, the evangelist Luke sets forth the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He does so by means of three separate incidents, but all containing the motif of true discipleship. The first incident concerns the questioning by a lawyer, who is not his disciple but does not appear openly hostile to the Lord. The conversation leads to the conclusion that a disciple of Christ must follow two commandments in the law to inherit eternal life. The emphasis in this account is on the second commandment, to love one's neighbor. …

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