A Story of ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Inn-siders’ – The ‘Good Samaritan’ within the parable of the Good Samaritan:


Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar is Programme Executive Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation, World Council of Churches. An Indian Theologian with expertise in Dalit Theology, he was previously Associate Professor of Ethics at the United Theological College, Bangalore.



The 21st century has only too well reminded us that when ‘peace-building’ is considered the monopoly of the powerful the greatest casualty is peace itself. ‘Peace’ today has become a project for self-aggrandizement of the powerful. In the name of peace the powerful have resorted to elision and demonization of critical voices which challenge power in both overt and covert ways.  In his profound, powerful and provocative reflection on the theme of the forthcoming WCC Assembly in Busan (God of life, lead us to justice and peace) my friend Joseph Prabhakar Dayam reminded us of this phenomenon when he said: “Often the liberation movements and critical voices are demonized as violent insurgencies and trouble makers.” In such a context, the way towards peace and justice is possible only when those with power are willing to engage with those people who have been rendered the ‘other’ by their policies and politics of exclusion and elision.  ‘Engaging with the other’, though attractive in rhetoric can be hard in terms of practice. One particular area in which this hardship has been experienced concerns opening oneself to the gift of the other and receiving the gifts the other brings. In such a context ‘dialogue’ or ‘engagement’  are rendered nothing more than an apology for condescending patronising if those in power shield ourselves from receiving fully the gift the other offers.  


As I was looking at biblical passages which would help me to deal with this question of ‘engaging with the other’, my attention was drawn to a familiar parable found in the bible the parable of the Good Samaritan. It needs no elaboration that Jesus’ attempt in this parable was to dispel prejudice and to help his hearers to recognise in the most-unlikely Samaritan a paradigm of virtue.  The challenge that this parable would have posed to Jesus’ hearers was both to recognise and accept the Samaritan as the ideal neighbour. Reframing this parable for our context would mean asking ourselves whether we can acknowledge, accept and support acts of transformation and restoration when they are done by the unexpected other? Can we really accept the others as people who are capable of making a contribution to restoration of a broken created order?


In my opinion Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan does not leave us stranded with regard to answers to these questions. The parable helps us in our quest for answers, however in an indirect and voiceless way! And only if we open ourselves to the possibility that the  Parable of the Good Samaritan is not the parable of the Samaritan alone.


My attention was drawn towards another risk-taker in the parable, one who goes largely unnoticed and unrecognised in the narrative, but is nevertheless important for the logical understanding of the parable – the inn-keeper in the parable. I would invite you to reflect with me on the role of the inn-keeper, the one who doesn’t discriminate against the Samaritan and cooperates with him  in the task of restoration of wholeness.


If the force of the parable of the Good Samaritan rests on the shock and repulsion of recognising a Samaritan as an unlikely or even undesired ‘do-gooder’ it was shocking to Jesus’ hearer’s only in their imagination … but to the innkeeper this was a challenge in flesh and blood.  It is at this point that the innkeeper emerges as someone who doesn’t let the power of prejudice to stifle the possibility of transformation and wholistic restoration even if it had been initiated by a repulsive and suspicious ‘outsider’.  


Going deeper into the parable it is appropriate to see the innkeeper as one with power who invests trust where there is possibility for suspicion and prejudice.


There were several reasons why the innkeeper should have been suspicious of and hostile to the Samaritan. Was it not more likely that the Samaritan could have been the one who had assaulted the wounded man? Further if the innkeeper was aware through local gossip that the Priest and the Levite had actually seen a wounded man and continued on their journey, should he not have doubted what it was that made the Samaritan think of himself as being better and more righteous than the priest or the Levite – who, respectable and professional people that they were and knowledgeable about the media misrepresentation that such actions could attract, ‘kept to the policy of non-intervention in what could have been a circumstance of profound emotional manipulation’. [1]    Should not the Samaritan have showed the same, if not more humility than the Priest and the Levite, who acted in the best professional model, respected the privacy of the wounded man till the end, and did not take upon themselves the task of legislating new rules of intervention in social issues?  After all, is it not people like the priest and the Levite – who establish careful codes of conduct, respect individual privacy, follow health and safety regulations, maintain extreme professionalism and effectively disengage themselves from what is not their role – who make society what it is today? [2]


If we look at the parable other questions are also have naturally haunted the inn-keeper. He would have thought, was not the Samaritan by carrying out the highly symbolic action of binding of wounds… something which according to Hosea 6 is God’s action towards to Israel, taking a shot at playing God? What business did he have in this whole issue as a non local? Was this a street theatre of some sort – a foreigner’s attempt to massage his ego or a misguided attempt to humiliate the locals?[3] Further, one of the suspicions that the Jews had against the Samaritans which becomes clear in Josephus’s writings was that the Samaritans took sides with the Jews during good times and disowned them when they were in trouble.[4] On what basis then could the innkeeper trust the Samaritan? Was it not possible that the Samaritan would never return to repay the balance, but would leave the victim with impossible debts to pay?



It is in such a context that the innkeeper silently replaces suspicion and hostility with trust and support. He opens the doors of his inn, wide for him and makes him an inn-sider. As a result the Samaritan entrusts the wounded man entirely to the innkeeper and promises to come back. It is in this reciprocity of trust and mutual help that healing and restoration of wholeness is made possible. The challenge which the innkeeper poses to us today involves the risk of offering good where an evil response is easier and more likely and more justifiable.  


The challenge of becoming the innkeeper also has implications for our self-identity. Acceptance of those who are Samaritans to us as the ideal neighbours is a threat. It is letting go of our system of scoring points against our ‘opponents’. In a context with an overwhelming temptation to forge one’s identity counter-relationally, it is only as long as we keep those who are Samaritans to us as bad, repulsive and reprobate that we can thrive as the good… the generous… the subjects.  Thus the challenge of accepting and recognising the good of the Samaritan is not merely an invitation to change our attitude towards others. It involves a daunting but also creative task of re-identifying ourselves … not against the other but alongside the other as partners. This task has crucial implications in our present clash of identities as the subjects and objects. Such identification offers an effective anti-dote to self-deceptive justifications of ourselves which can be sustained only through promoting prejudice and hatred.


The innkeeper also encourages us to shed the temptation of seeking to always be the heroes and heroines of God’s acts of liberation. The parable is the parable of the Good Samaritan and not of the good-innkeeper.  The story helps us to remember that at certain times our primary task is not to be the change-makers, but to learn to play the supportive role to change-makers. Too often, wanting to be the change-makers can be a way of exerting control. It can emerge from fears that accepting the good of others and cooperating with them can make us powerless – and we genuinely fear the loss of control involved. Therefore sometimes we opt out of the story when the script is not tailor-made to propel us ‘centre-stage’. The innkeeper challenges us to acquire the silent grace that comes from learning to give up that control. We learn to live as people who do not fear the surprises and shocks of outsiders – the Samaritans of today – taking control, even in our own inns. Dear brothers and sisters in conclusion, becoming an innkeeper today involves working towards a world where it is easier for human beings to work together and difficult to be separated and isolated.


According to Augustine’s interpretation of the parable the inn is the Church. The inn keeper thus can be said to represent the church. If we choose to go by this interpretation the parable is a reminder of the true identity and the vocation of the Church. The Parable addresses us not only in the language of the imperative – what we ought to do – but the language of the indicative – of who we are and are to become.[5] We are to be both a body and a space of healing and restoration, where even the outsiders can be agents of transformation and justice. We are to become a space and a body where outsiders and inn-siders work together.


As a community called to be a sign of the Kingdom of God – the Church cannot shield itself from the other. As a community of the people of God, the Church must have the confidence that God is present even in the outsider – which in the words of Stanley Haeurwas, is ‘a confidence made possible only because the community itself was formed by the presence of the ultimate stranger, Jesus Christ’[6] – the one who came to his own but whose own received him not. Therefore brothers and sisters, the inn-keeper as the insider, challenges us to receive with gratitude the gift of the outsider. This is because it is only in the face of the other that we rediscover ourselves and recognise God.  One Good Samaritan may be good enough for the first aid, which is life saving indeed, but to make the healing more complete we need innkeepers, their resources, their open doors, and their hospitality.

[1]  See Samuel Wells, ‘The Jericho Affair’, in Christian Century, June 29, 2004, (p.17).

[2]  See Samuel Wells, ‘The Jericho Affair’, in Christian Century, June 29, 2004, (p.17).

[3]  See Samuel Wells, ‘The Jericho Affair’, in Christian Century, June 29, 2004, (p.17).

[4] J. Massyngbaerde Ford, My Enemy is My Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1984)


[5] Patrick J. Willson, ‘Who We Are’, in Christian Century, June 26, 2007, (p.19)


[6] Stanley Haeurwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, (London: SCM Press,1983), p.85

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4 Responses to A Story of ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Inn-siders’ – The ‘Good Samaritan’ within the parable of the Good Samaritan:

  1. deeply moved by this article.

  2. Aruna Gnanadason says:

    Another excellent blog…..thank you Peniel for so beautifully articulating the Inn-sider – a good samaritan indeed….who challenges us to hospitality to those left in the outside of our society!

  3. samson says:

    Moreover, the Priest and Levite have never seen any such model in their own pattern of life (Priesthood). No predecessor has done,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  4. Ch. Sweety Helen says:

    This is wonderful!..”Parable addresses not only in a language of imperative but also an indicative”
    Thought provoking! Thank you Peniel.

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