In the course of a discussion about what it means to love one’s neighbor, JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More tells a parableA parable is a brief story with a setting, an action, and a result. A prominent aspect of Jesus' teaching was telling parables to illustrate something about the kingdom, or reign, of God. More about a man in need who receives compassionate care from a person who was supposed to be his enemy, a SamaritanSamaritans were a people who mostly lived between Galilee and Judea and were avoided or shunned by mainstream Judaism. Jesus' message, however, was so inclusive that he often spoke favorably of Samaritans as he did with the woman at the well (John 4) and in... More.
The context in which Jesus tells this parable is important for understanding what the parable itself means. The Gospel’s narrator reveals that the legal expert talking to Jesus is attempting “to justify himself” when he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” His intention, therefore, is to limit the understanding of who rightly can be considered his neighbor, to limit the range of people whom he must love. The parable responds by expanding the notion of who qualifies as a person’s neighbor.
The parable itself is a story of great compassion coming from an unlikely source. Jesus certainly presents the injured man as a Jew, yet leaders among his own people–the priestA priest is a person who has the authority to perform religious rites. In New Testament times priests were responsible for daily offerings and sacrifices in the temple. More and the Levite–refuse to help him. These two passersby are religious figures, and their associations with the Jerusalem templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More make them connected to the heart of Jewish identity and piety. The Samaritan who appears on the scene is out of place in Judea, on a road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Because most Samaritans and Jews held deep-seated resentments against the other group, the compassion and actions of the Samaritan in the parable are surprising. He reflects the lengths to which love will go. He treats the injured man not as an enemy but as a neighbor, as one of his own.
The conclusion of the story is also important. Jesus does not ask the legal expert to identify who in the parable is his neighbor, as if that is what this man really needs to discover. Jesus asks him to identify who in the parable is “a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers.” The point is that the parable and Jesus’ concluding question force the lawyer to consider the nature of neighborly activity. Jesus directs him to see neighborliness in the actions of the Samaritan and not to speculate about what might qualify a person to be considered someone else’s neighbor. Since a Samaritan is the parable’s model character, the legal expert conversing with Jesus must learn about genuine love from the example of a person he would regard as his enemy. Jesus has reframed the question that prompted the parable in the first place; instead of identifying who counts as a neighbor to be loved, Jesus indicates that a person truly acts as a neighbor through loving. The legal expert wants to know who deserves his love. Jesus replies by showing how authentic love will seek out, even in the unlikeliest of places, neighbors to receive compassion and care.