Story of the Good Samaritan: A Fresh Perspective

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on August 09, 2008

You’ve probably already heard of the Story of the Good Samaritan. It was Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”.

What you may *not* have heard is the symbolic interpretation of this story. Amazingly enough, looking at this story as being symbolic (allegorical) produces a sweeping picture of the entire story of humankind from beginning to end.

The story begins with a traveller going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is a steep downhill journey. This is symbolic of Adam being placed into the earth with the purpose of ruling over it after having been designed and thought of in the eternal, heavenly mind of God. [Note: The very beginning of the story in the original language (ancient Greek) even says “a certain man …” (the traveller), which is translated as “Adam”.] Yet before Adam can realize his true potential of ruling over all of the earth, he and his wife, Eve, make a tragic decision. Without fully realizing what they are doing, they surrender their privileges as a son and a daughter of God.

The thieves who attacked the traveller are symbols of the devil and demons. The robbery of the clothes of the traveller represents a loss of authority and identity, which is what happened to Adam and Eve (and to all of humanity, their descendants) when, after being tricked into doing so by the serpent, they disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree. This was then marked by their expulsion from Eden and their loss of a regular, face-to-face relationship with God in that garden. As happened to the victim in the story, they became “half-dead”. All of humanity is created in the likeness of God, and yet this stain of separation from God remains.

The unhelpful passers-by, the priest and the levite, represent religious law and religion systems. Neither is able or willing to help. [As it is written: By the works of the law, no one will be justified (helped).] Symbolically in the story, the law comes by first and then the religious ceremonies, formalities and systems that surround that law. [The Levites assisted the priests in ancient Judea.]

The Good Samaritan represents Jesus. The Samaritan pours oil and wine upon the victim’s wounds. Oil often represents the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) in the Bible, whereas wine often represents the blood of Christ, shed for all of humanity on the cross. Samaritans were part Jewish and part gentile (non-Jewish). This is symbolic of Jesus being God and man. The victim is then carried by the Samaritan to Jericho. This symbolizes Jesus Christ doing what humankind carelessly gave up the ability to do on its own: going “down” to its divine (heavenly) destiny of ruling (the story of Genesis says subduing/possessing/having dominion over) the earth. The inn where the traveller is housed in safety is a symbol of the church, the body of Christ. Finally, the promise of the Samaritan to return represents the second coming of Jesus back to the earth.

Another facet of this symbolic interpretation is offered by Sam Soleyn in his new MP3 series entitled “The Culture of the Kingdom”. See:

In program 139 of this series, Mr. Soleyn sees the two coins as symbolizing 2,000 years. This is because the type of coin in the story refers to one day’s wage for the average worker at that time, and also because, in the Bible, references to one day were often symbolic of 1,000 years. If this is correct, Jesus is saying that he would return for his church after about 2,000 years.

By the way, seeing this story as a series of symbols is not a new invention. Rather, it has ancient roots. The respected 3rd-century theologian Origen wrote down this interpretation and said that other followers of Christ had passed it down to him. See:

Do you also find this symbolic interpretation interesting or do you consider it to be just a distraction from the more direct meaning of the story?


Book Review: “The End of Religion”

Posted in: Reviews,Spirituality by bill-o on August 05, 2008

“The End of Religion” is a book with a serious and provocative title. Yet even though this is indeed a serious work, its touch and tone are light for those readers who are truly seeking Jesus but not a religious institution. As the author, Bruce Cavey, teaching pastor of the Meeting House in the Toronto area, freely explains, this book is for those who love Jesus but who are burnt out on religion.

Even though this is ultimately a theological book, it is conversational in tone. For example, Mr. Cavey’s story of his own marriage having matured into a love-based relationship does more to explain why love is better than law than a long, technical theological dissertation ever could. The author’s retelling of a chance meeting with an atheist who loved the Golden Rule but didn’t know Jesus had said it also provides an important touch of humanity and personality. The reader gets a sense of actually sitting across a comfortable living room and talking to the author over a casual cup of coffee, even though weighty spiritual issues are being discussed.

For those readers more inclined to a Bible-teaching style, a substantive discussion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as an examination of the Greek word skandalon in the gospels, will you provide you with what you are looking for.

The essence of the book can probably best be summarized in the author’s story (parable) of the couple Bob and Sue. To rekindle the romance in their marriage, Bob planned a special dinner at a restaurant, capped off by the presentation of a blue rose. However, Bob then invited Sue to several more dinners just like it at the same restaurant. What started out the first time as something romantic and special became routine, monotonous, and even more than a little strange each time after the first dinner. And so it is with religion.

For Mr. Cavey, excessive religion is an “organzational dependence”. This is where a person depends in whole or in part in a organization (institution) for access to God. Religion, as he sees it, is marked by the presence of fear and not its absence. It seems that avoiding this fear-and-dependence trap will bring someone much closer to the religion-less life that the author extols.

What does the author means when he says “the end of religion”? Mr. Cavey’s ideas about this title phrase come to a climax in the chapter, “The Day Religion Died”. Here, he writes:

“Yes, the Bible says that Jesus died for our sins. But it also says that he died for our religion. In Christ, God crucified the whole mess once and for all. In fact, by repeatedly emphasizing that Jesus died for our sins, the biblical writers were emphasizing the end of religion as a way to God.”

There is not necessarily a lot of practical application in this book (other than a paragraph at the end encouraging readers to “seek out intentional community”). In other words, if you agree with the author that Jesus declared the end of religion, then what do you now? Such a question is valid. However, that’s not the point of a book like this. “The End of Religion” challenges and confronts long-held assumptions about Jesus and religion. The author properly leaves it to others (expressly including his readers) to illuminate the next steps in turning this theory into practice.

It’s not a main theme of the book, but I do appreciate when the author mentions his own church congregation, the Meeting House. The Meeting House is evidently “a church for people who aren’t into church”. Rather than seeking to build the largest possible institutional church, Mr. Cavey freely admits that he expects his church to exist in a radically different form in another gerenation. Mr. Cavey clearly seems not to be a pastor who is writing his book as a stepping stone to megachurch superstardom or as a vehicle to prop up his own ministry.

If you’re looking for a long, technical treatise on theology, this is not the book for you. However, if you’re looking for a breath of fresh air about Jesus and his love, then I would recommend this book to you.

For more information, see: