Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Submitted by admin on Wed, 2008-06-04 10:24.

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To test Jesus, a man who knew the Mosaic law exceptionally well asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (or life in the age to come). Instead of giving him a direct answer, the Son of God questioned him about the law and how he read what was contained therein. The legal expert focused on two commandments—loving God with one’s whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5) Jesus acknowledged the correctness of the answer and then added, “Do this, and you will live.” Wanting to justify himself, the man responded, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29; for comments about the possible nature of the justification, see the Notes section.)

In reply, Jesus related a parable or likeness. While on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a man became the victim of robbers. They stripped and beat him, leaving him half dead. Coincidentally, traveling the same road, a priest noticed the battered victim but passed by on the opposite side. Later, a Levite likewise did nothing to help the man. On his way, a Samaritan saw him and was moved with compassion. He approached the helpless man, poured oil and wine on his wounds, and then bandaged them. The Samaritan lifted him onto his mount (which would commonly have been a donkey), took him to an inn, and cared for him there. The next day, he gave two denarii (the equivalent of two days’ wages) to the innkeeper, telling him to care for the man and obligating himself to reimburse him for any other costs the care might require. The Samaritan promised to make any additional payment upon his return. (Luke 10:30-35; see the Notes section for other comments.)

Jesus then asked the questioner about who of the three had proved himself to be the neighbor of the one who had fallen among the robbers. Seemingly, he could not bring himself to say, “the Samaritan” (one whom he would not have regarded as belonging to God’s people), but replied that it was the one who had dealt mercifully. Applying the point of the parable, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36) In this manner, he transformed the question, “Who is my neighbor?” into one stressing personal accountability, Am I proving myself to be a neighbor to others, particularly those in need?


The next event narrated in the account took place in Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. This could suggest that Jesus was questioned in the general vicinity.

There are a number of possibilities about how the legal expert wanted to justify himself. (Luke 10:29) Perhaps he did not believe that Jesus’ response had settled the question but merely called attention to what he already knew. In that case, he would have been justifying the reason for asking the question. Another possibility is that he wanted to justify that he was truly doing what the law required, with the precise identification of the neighbor serving to confirm this. So it may be that he wanted Jesus to define the term “neighbor” in a very specific or limited sense.

In the first century, travelers had to reckon with dangers from highwaymen. (2 Corinthians 11:26) The narrow road between Jerusalem and Jericho passed ravines, cliffs, and caves, and provided numerous locations for robbers to conceal themselves and then quickly to descend upon their victims.

Jesus did not identify the man who fell among robbers as a Jew, a Samaritan, or a Gentile, but simply represented him as a man who was traveling from the elevated city of Jerusalem down to Jericho. (Luke 10:30) Likely the legal expert thought of him as being a fellow Jew.

Whether the priest and the Levite were coming or going to Jerusalem is not specified in the parable.

In view of their being in God’s service in a special way, priests and Levites would have been expected to be more responsive to the needs of others than would the general populace. Jesus provided no reason for the failure of the priest and the Levite. This left it up to the questioner to come up with any justification (fear of possible attack if they lingered in the area, avoidance of ceremonial defilement if the man was dead, or the belief that the victim had rightly experienced divine judgment for his sin).

In the case of the Levite, the expression “having come and having seen” may mean that Jesus represented him as arriving at the location, approaching to take a closer look, but afterward doing nothing to relieve the half-dead man and passing by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

The enmity existing between the Jews and the Samaritans would have been an excuse for inaction. This feature of the parable makes the point about what constitutes a neighbor even more forceful. The book of Sirach, translated from Hebrew into Greek in the second century BCE, reflects the kind of animosity that existed. “My whole being loathes two nations, the third is not even a people: Those who live in Seir and Philistia, and the degenerate folk in Shechem [the Samaritans].” (Sirach 50:25, 26, NAB)

Olive oil served to soften and soothe bruises and welts. Wine, with its antiseptic qualities, proved useful for cleansing open wounds.