Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan


Luke 10:25-37


In the course of a discussion about what it means to love one’s neighbor, Jesus tells a parable about a man in need who receives compassionate care from a person who was supposed to be his enemy, a Samaritan.


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 also makes a statement about the quality of self-giving love.

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 priest and the Levite–refuse to help him. These two passersby are religious figures, and their associations with the Jerusalem Temple make them connected to the heart of Jewish identity and piety. The point is that these exemplary leaders fail to give the injured man the care he needs. There is no suggestion that their commitment to the law prevents them from doing so. They simply fail to do the right thing.

The Samaritan who appears on the scene is out of place in Judea, on a road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Because many Samaritans and Jews held deep-seated and long-running 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 someone like him.

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 Jesus’ dialogue partner really needs to discover. Jesus asks him instead to identify who in the parable is “a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers.” 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 beyond his circle, an “other.” Jesus therefore reframes the question that prompts 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 self-giving love. The legal expert wants to know who deserves his love. Jesus replies by showing how authentic love will seek out, even in unlikely places, neighbors to receive compassion and care.