The Good Samaritan
Throughout the ages, seekers of the truth have sought the help of living spiritual guides, often viewing them as their saviours. Upon the death of such mystics, later followers have often claimed that ‘their’ spiritual guide was humanity’s only saviour even though this did not reflect the teachings of the mystic himself. For example, in Christian tradition, the saviour is always Jesus, although there is considerable evidence that Jesus taught the importance of a living guide. There is also evidence that the common interpretation of Jesus’ parables is not always the way in which many early Christians understood them. One such parable is that of the good Samaritan.
Who is my neighbour?
Found exclusively in the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Good Samaritan is narrated by Jesus in response to a question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In the parable, a Jewish traveller is stripped of his clothing, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside. After a while, a Jewish priest comes by and then a Levite (an educated man of Israel’s priestly class) but neither offer the man any assistance. Finally, along comes a Samaritan who, tending to the man’s injuries with oil and wine, carries him to an inn and leaves money as payment for all the man’s expenses. Thus, Jesus concludes that the good neighbour is the Samaritan who, despite the hostility between the Samaritans and Jews, took care of the beaten man.
References in early Christian texts suggest that this parable, though commonly taken to be a story exemplifying human kindness and compassion, may have been intended as a mystic allegory. The wounded man, symbolizing the soul, is stripped of his light and glory by ‘thieves’ – the passions and negative tendencies inherent in us all. He is ‘half dead’ because, althoughin a desperate condition in the physical universe, the soul never loses its natural pristine purity and immortality.
Choosing a priest and a Levite as observers who offer no help to the wounded man, is significant. It is the priestly class which is looked upon to provide guidance on spiritual matters. Like everyone else, however, priests can be consumed by human passions and victim to the illusion of life on the material plane. Whilst well-versed in mystic teachings, they may not know how to apply these in practice. Therefore, powerless to help, the priest and the scholar of holy scriptures simply pass on by.
It is left to a passing Samaritan, an outsider, to heal the wounded man. The Samaritan represents the Master. It is he alone who, understanding the depth of the wounds incurred by souls, is truly compassionate and able to start the healing process. Thus, tending to the man with oil and wine is symbolic of the Master imparting the technique of spiritual practice. The inn where the wounded man is taken represents the inner heavenly realms where the saviour pays off the soul’s debts; debts which would otherwise have prevented the soul from recovery. Left destitute by the thieves of the mind, the soul has no other means of payment. The soul, therefore, is entirely reliant upon the compassion of its friend – one whom it has never previously met and yet who has taken so much care of him.
And there the parable ends, rather abruptly from the allegorical point of view, with the Samaritan paying for the man’s stay at the inn for as long as necessary. Perhaps, when the man is well enough to travel further, the Samaritan takes him to his own home and allows him to stay there forever. But that, of course, is purely speculation!
Abridged from The Prodigal Soul: The Wisdom of Ancient Parables