Good old Samaritans still exist! But barely. There are just a few hundred left.
Of course I do not mean it here in the idiomatic sense as “a kind person who helps another in difficult situation.” I mean it in the literal sense of Samaritans as an ethnic and religious group. They still live near ancient Samaria, approximately today’s Nablus, on the slopes of Mount Gerizim. They still worship there and offer ancient old sacrifices there as prescribed in the Law of Moses. Yes, indeed, they still read from their version of Torah - the Books of Moses.
Their version of the Law is similar, yet different from our current Jewish and Christian bibles. The biggest difference has been that the Samaritan Law expressly requires worship on Mt Gerizim while the Jewish Torah speaks about “the place which the LORD will choose” (which later tradition interpreted as Jerusalem).
Modern academic scholarship oscillates in opinion between which version is original, Samaritan or Jewish. I am convinced that both biblical versions (Samaritan and Jewish) are more or less simultaneous (early Hellenistic) and were edited to suit ideological desires of each particular faith community. Most likely the Samaritan reading about Mt. Gerizim is closer to the original, while the Jewish version was falsified thus enabling the Jewish religious center to be placed squarely in Jerusalem.
From that time on the ancient ethnic and religious tension was born and only grew. When shortly afterwards the Jewish (Maccabean) King John Hyrcanus destroyed the ancient Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim it certainly did not help their mutual relationships. Proverbial animosity matured and still persists millennia later. In the state of Israel, Samaritans, as old as their religion might be, operate without the status of a recognized religion.
Samaritans always were those quintessential others. Similar, but different; following the Law of Moses, but a different version; with faith in YHWH, but with different accents. They were a constant reminder of the diversity and plurality of faith/faiths. Jesus and the early Christians marvelously picked up, highlighted and embraced this theme. Unfortunately the church lost this diversity message soon afterwards.
This Sunday and next, stories about Samaritans will remind us (it is needed again and again) that we are not the only people of faith. God does not belong to us alone, to church, to any church! Any religion, including our own, does not have an ownership license for God.
So there might be only 700 or so real old Samaritans left, but the world is full of Samaritans, those quintessential others. They do not belong to our group (because many of them might have been alienated, offended or hurt by the church just like Samaritans were by Jews) but they still search and long for and, indeed, are loved by God. Come to celebrate this miracle of miracles!