Short Take: One Parable, Six Roles — Good Samaritan

Author’s Note

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), a man is robbed and badly beaten. Some people help him, and some don’t.

The cast of characters includes thieves; their victim, who was probably a Jew; a Jewish religious leader (priest); a Jewish temple worker (Levite); a Samaritan, whom the Jews thought racially and religiously impure; and an innkeeper (called the host).

The thieves leave the victim half dead. The priest and Levite see him but keep their distance; contact with blood or a corpse would make them ceremonially unclean. The Samaritan had compassion and “went to him, and bound up his wounds, . . . and brought him to an inn, and took care of him,” leaving extra money with the innkeeper and promising more, if needed.

We might see ourselves in each of these roles.

One hopes we are never the thieves, wounding people and leaving them half dead. Are we ever the priest or Levite, using our (Christian) religion as an excuse not to be Christian? Sometimes we are the innkeeper, serving others in a supporting role.

We like ourselves in the role of Good Samaritan and aspire to play it often. “Go, and do thou likewise,” said the Lord.

This parable has another level, because we are also the thieves’ victim: damaged, fallen, left for dead. The Savior himself – “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3), like a Samaritan – is the Good Samaritan, who rescues us, heals us, engages others to help us, and pays the full price of our redemption.

Short Take: Shepherds and Lambs

Author’s Note

God invited shepherds to visit the manger that night, then bear witness – not religious, civic, or business leaders (Luke 2:8-18). The God and Friend of ancient shepherds – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Abel, Moses – was not just being social. He was continuing a frequent and powerful symbol, declaring both who Jesus is to us – Shepherd and Lamb – and who we are to him. (See Isaiah 53:6-7; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Nephi 13:41; Helaman 15:13.)

Observers of shepherds’ ancient ways report details which help us understand the symbolism.

Shepherds lead from the front, instead of driving from behind. (“Follow me” – see Matthew 9:9John 1:43.)

A shepherd knows the face, personality, and name of each sheep.

Each shepherd has a unique call, which his sheep recognize. (“My sheep hear my voice . . . and follow me” – John 10:27.)

Sheep generally follow their shepherd, but sometimes bolt. The shepherd knows which sheep is missing and goes to find it. Bringing a sheep back on one’s shoulders is heavy, smelly work.

A proper shepherd doesn’t recoil from an ailing sheep. He ministers.

A shepherd is compassionate. Jewish tradition tells of Moses tending a flock before his prophetic call. One sheep bolts. He pursues it all the way to a familiar watering hole. He is kind and understanding, not angry, and says, “It was because of thirst that you strayed.” He lets it drink, then carries it back to the flock.

Finally – as a prelude to our year’s study of the New Testament – when sheep hear their shepherd’s voice, they raise their heads, turn to him, listen, and gather to him.

Short Take: Another Side of the Atonement

Author’s Note

In the garden and on the cross, Jesus suffered the penalty justice demands for our sins, so that we can be redeemed if we repent. This gift is incalculable, and our need for it is absolute. But Jesus suffered more than this. Isaiah and Paul mention it (see Isaiah 53:4-5; Hebrews 4:15-16); Alma explains it.

Jesus somehow took upon himself all our sicknesses, pains, temptations, heartbreaks – everything we suffer. He now knows them all from the inside, “according to the flesh” (Alma 7:11-12.).

He not only knows generally how it feels to struggle with addiction, or to be chronically or terminally ill or love someone who is, or to be caught up in divorce and its aftermath, or to doubt or disbelieve or fear. Because of Gethsemane and Calvary, he knows exactly how these experiences feel to each of us. He not only walks the proverbial mile in our shoes; he walks every mile, and he knows exactly how our shoes feel on our feet.

Alma explains that this qualifies Jesus to judge us with mercy in the end. This experience also fully qualifies him to help us through all our difficulties. This part of the atonement, too, is a wondrous gift to us, from both the Son and the Father.