What Is the Parable of the Good Samaritan?
This parable appears in the tenth chapter of the Book of Luke and is told in verses 25 to 37. To begin, Jesus is asked by a lawyer, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)
Jesus in turn asked the lawyer a rhetorical question in the very next verse. What is his interpretation of the law? The lawyer accurately recounts both the first and second greatest commandments. Upon hearing this, Jesus lets him know that he is correct, but then the lawyer has another question. And this question is so poignant as to have relevance in today’s polarized America. The lawyer’s question is, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). After this question, Jesus tells the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan.
To summarize the parable, the man is traveling between two cities. On his journey, he is mugged, stripped, and left for dead. Three people encounter the wounded man: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The first two avoided the dying man and actually went to the other side of the road to pass by him. Only the last man drew close and aided him. After telling the parable, Jesus gives the lawyer a command, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37).
At face value, this is a story about treating others with love. The priest and Levite did not show love for the man. With no compassion, they passed by leaving the traveler to whatever fate would befall him. The Samaritan decided to be proactive and help. This immediate interpretation of the story definitely appears to be the gist of what Jesus is preaching. The story was initially delivered in the context of the first and second greatest commandments, the second of which is to love others. Though the interpretation is correct, the parable is deeper than that.
The lawyer’s question was not about whether he was supposed to love others, but he wanted to specify who is considered to be a “neighbor”. This is where the context of the cities becomes important. The man traveling is leaving Jerusalem and going to Jericho. We can therefore presume that this man is a Jew. The person who aided him is a Samaritan. People today who hear the word Samaritan may think the word means a good person. However, the Samaritans were a group of people residing in Samaria, who did not have good relations with the Jews.
With this added context, we can see then that the answer to the lawyer’s questions does not literally mean people residing in the same neighborhood. The world’s definition of neighbor thus conflicts with Jesus’. Neighbors include enemies and even people who do not live together. Jesus’ idea of neighbor then seems to be all-encompassing of humanity in its entirety. This makes sense considering Jesus died for the sins of all (John 3:16).
Now that we understand the word neighbor more like Jesus and less like the lawyer, we can examine 3 things to know about the parable of the Good Samaritan.