The Parable of the Good Samaritan – Who is My Neighbor?
30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’
36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
During Christ’s ministry he sent out 70 disciples. In Luke 10:9 he instructed them to “… heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ These 70 later returned “with joy.” Not long afterward, he spoke this parable.
This parable was given in answer to questions posed by a “certain lawyer.”
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
27 So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” 29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
At this time, large crowds were following Jesus. They were seeking healing and also questioning him concerning his teachings. Some were considering following him, but changed their minds when they realized the cost.
Jesus, knowing that the Jewish lawyer had the same prejudice as most all Jews, gave this parable as instruction to the whole nation. In that time, the Jews considered the Samaritans “dogs” or “sinners.” This parable was given to the Jews to prepare them for the coming kingdom in which both Jews and Gentiles could be accepted by God as his chosen people. Commentators and preachers have given many modern day interpretations concerning this parable about helping those in need and various other subjects.
However, it is necessary to first understand the application to the people who were actually listening to Jesus, before trying to make additional applications. Through the centuries many have failed to use this simple technique in Bible study. Below is one early example of allegorical interpretation:
Origen described the allegory as follows: The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming. [Wikipedia – the parable of the Good Samaritan]
This interpretation was given early in church history and many other over-reaching interpretations of this parable have followed this one. These allegorical interpretations got worse as time went on. Many are structured in such a way as to promote the authority of the Catholic Church or other churches.
The Jewish national application
The man who came to Jesus asking the question about eternal life was a lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law). First, let’s give him credit for understanding that Moses and the prophets spoke about a future resurrection to eternal life. However, he was “testing” Jesus and may have even been tasked by others to test Jesus in order to find fault in his teaching. Remember that the Jews were seeking a way to accuse Jesus of perverting the Law of Moses. See Mark 3:2; John 8:6
Whether or not the lawyer was sincere, Jesus used the occasion to teach against Jewish prejudice. Jesus answered the question by using the Socratic Method, i.e., answering a question with a question: “He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” This method avoids an immediate argument by allowing the lawyer to answer using his own knowledge first. The lawyer answers by quoting Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. This was, of course, the “orthodox” answer straight from Moses. In turn, Christ answers; “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
The lawyer was not satisfied with Christ’s answer and wanted to justify himself. Perhaps in the lawyer’s mind, he thought that “neighbor” only applied within God’s chosen people, the Jews. He then asked the famous question; “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29)
In the Parable, the first one to come upon the beaten man is a priest. The priest does not have compassion on him and passes on. The second to come upon the beaten man was a Levite. The Levite surely should have had compassion on and helped the man, but he didn’t.
The next to come by was a Samaritan. The Samaritan had compassion upon the injured man even possibly not knowing if the man was a Jew or Gentile. The Samaritan did not consider the man’s race, nationality, or religion. He instantly helped a fellow man in need!
The lawyer had lived his life discriminating by race and nationality. Notice how the lawyer replied when Jesus asked him “which… was neighbor.”
36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Rather than even pronouncing the word “Samaritan,” the lawyer referred to the compassionate man as; “He who showed mercy on him.” Surely the lawyer knew that the prophets had spoken of the time when Gentiles (or the “nations”) would be included when Messiah came to establish the new kingdom. This is taught in; Isa 11:10; 42:1, 6; 49:6; 60:3, 62:2; 66:12, 19 and in other scriptures. The lawyer did not understand the difference between the physical and the spiritual application in the coming new kingdom.
The compassion that the Samaritan exhibited shows exactly how God would view all mankind under the coming new covenant. Therefore, Christ’s parable was given to reveal the coming change for the Jewish nation. God was about to allow Gentiles to be “grafted in” to his covenant people! See Rom 11:17, 19, 23-24.
The general personal application
There are, of course, eternal personal lessons to be garnered from this parable. Jesus tells the lawyer to, “Go and do likewise” meaning that, even while still under the Law of Moses, he should learn to be compassionate to all men! Likewise, we today as Christians within the new kingdom, should certainly practice compassion for all mankind.
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.