One of my favorite stories from the bible is “The Good Samaritan”. A man is robbed, beaten and left on the side of the road. All the good citizens pass by and ignore him. Then a Samaritan comes to his aid, takes him to safety, pays for his care: all at great expense and inconvenience to himself.
The problem with the story today is that the true meaning is lost in the non-translation of the most important word, the word Samaritan. If you asked any hundred Americans to take a word association test and gave them the word Samaritan, more than ninety of them would come back with the word good. But to the largely Jewish audience listening to Jesus when he told the story, a Samaritan was anything but good. They were sacrilegious and of mixed race, they were the scum of the earth.
So how do we translate Samaritan to really understand the story? The answer changes with time and place.
- 1939 in Germany it would be translated as Jew
- 1942 in California it would translate as Japanese
- 1950 in Washington, D C it would translate as Communist
- 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas it would be translated as Negro
- 1968 in Southeast Asia it would be Viet Cong
- 1979 in U S Embassies with would translate as Iranian
- 2002 in New York it would translate as Muslim
- 2010 in Arizona it would translate as illegal Mexican immigrant – as Patty, Marylou and their friends do so well in the Man from Magdalena
- For me personally today, I need to translate Samaritan as the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Mormons, in Colorado City.
The next time you read or hear the story of the Good Samaritan, I want you to look into your heart and find that group of people who; maybe by race, by religion, by political affiliation; you most disagree with, most dislike, most fear and substitute that name for the word Samaritan. Let’s not continue to let the true meaning of the parable be lost in non-translation.