The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known and most profound of all the parables of Jesus. The parable may have been based on an Old Testament story that tells of the kindness given to certain Judean military captives by men of Samaria whose behavior resembles that of the Good Samaritan at certain points, because they:
“… clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria” (2 Chronicles 28:15).
Regardless of the origins of the story of the Good Samaritan, its timeless message teaches us that when there is true need – as opposed to requests for handouts (see our article on the savvy Samaritan here) – we should give without hesitation. That much is clear from even a cursory reading of the story, but the parable also teaches something else that is easier to miss – that in cases of real need, we should be willing to give with true generosity.
Christ’s parable tells us that the Samaritan who rescued the injured Judean – despite belonging to a group that was generally shunned and even despised by many Jews – not only bound the man’s wounds and carried him on his own donkey to the nearest inn, but also made provision for the man’s upkeep for a while. The story tells us: “The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’” (Luke 10:35).
It’s easy to read over the fact that the Samaritan gave “two denarii” – or “two pence” as some older translations have it – for the man’s upkeep, but the amount was a considerable one. The denarius was a silver coin of the Roman Empire – from which the word “money” is derived in several modern languages (for example, Spanish “dinero”). We know historically that at that time a single denarius would be the approximate pay for a day’s labor (Matthew 20:2). Two denarii equaled two days’ wages, or a full third of what an individual could earn in a week; at current U.S. minimum wage it would be about $140. But what would that amount buy at that time?
Archaeology can help answer that question. A sign from an inn located in a city of the Roman Empire not too distant in time from the setting of the Parable of the Good Samaritan may indicate that the nightly cost for a room was 1/32nd of a denarius. At that rate it is obvious that providing two denarii for the care of the man would provide for a stay of two months, or for several weeks including food. Not only that, but also the Samaritan made it clear that when he came by on his return journey he would pay for any extra expenses if the two denarii were used up.
So the gift of the Samaritan was not a small one, and the extent of the individual’s generosity toward a total stranger (especially of a nation that generally shunned his own people) seems astonishing. This does not mean, of course, that Jesus advocated giving several days of our pay to everyone we attempt to help. We do not know how rich or poor the Samaritan was – the parable does not give us that context. But Christ’s parable does show us, through what the Good Samaritan gave, that when human need is real, truly generous giving is appropriate.
*For more on the parables of Jesus, download our free e-book on this subject, here.