In first century Israel Jews were prejudiced against Samaritans.
The Samaritans were remnants of the Northern kingdom of Israel, which had established its capital in Samaria.
Judah, the Southern kingdom, had established its capital in Jerusalem.
When the Assyrians invaded and carried away the Jews into captivity, those living in Samaria who remained intermarried with other non-Jewish people groups.
As a result, Samarians were not seen as pure Jews. Jewish prejudice was religious as well, rooted in a dispute over the proper place to worship God. See John 4: 20 (“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”)
Consequently, Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, as John noted. See John 4:9 (“For Jews do not associate with Samaritans”). It is also believed by many historians, that Jews would even walk around Samaria rather than through it when traveling north from Jerusalem.
All of this is partly what makes Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan remarkable. The parable is Jesus’ response to a lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” It was a fair question, even if poorly motivated. Luke 10:29. Jesus had just told the lawyer the great commandment was to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Luke 10:27. The definition of “neighbor” determined whom the lawyer was required to love.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is not primarily about racism. It is about the the breadth of the commandment to love others. Jesus’ point was that everyone is a neighbor, meaning the obligation to love others applies to all those around us.
But what is significant is that in making the larger point about love, Jesus took a clear swipe at the racism of his day by making the Samaritan the hero of the story. At the end of the story, Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Luke 10:36.
The Samaritan was the lawyer’s neighbor, and therefore, the lawyer was to love the Samaritan as he loved himself, meaning the lawyer was to love all those people around him. The lawyer, perhaps struggling with his own prejudice, could not even say, “the Samaritan” and instead said, “the one who had mercy.” Luke 10:37.
Jesus not only taught against racism; He lived what He taught. John recounts Jesus passing through Samaria and stopping at the well. John 4:1-29. A Samaritan woman approached the well. The normal Jewish racist response was to ignore and not speak to the woman because of her race and gender. Instead, Jesus engaged her and ministered to her. She was shocked. John 4:9. When Jesus’ disciples return they are shocked. John 4:27.
As the kingdom of God expands on the earth, and people become increasingly obedient to King Jesus, racism will become a thing of the past. It will become a thing of the past because Jesus did not tolerate it, does not tolerate it, and He demands nothing less of His followers. GS