Passages

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) by Matthew S. Rindge

Jesus’ teaching and storytelling abilities are on display in the dialogue about the Good Samaritan. Throughout the conversation Jesus employs a Socratic technique by mirroring the lawyer: he responds to the lawyer’s two questions not with answers but with questions of his own (Luke 10:26, Luke 10:36). Jesus only gives answers in response to answers the lawyer gives (Luke 10:28, Luke 10:37). Jesus thereby invites the lawyer to participate actively in exploring the answers to his own questions. As is typical of Jesus’ parables, this one disorients and subverts conventional views.

How does a person inherit eternal life?

In directing the lawyer to the law (“What is written in the law?”), and affirming his response (“You have given the right answer”), Jesus indicates that the key to inheriting eternal life is to be found not in him but in obeying the Torah commandments to love God and neighbor (Deut 6:5, Lev 19:18). Ironically, Christians who locate eternal life in Jesus depart from Jesus’ own emphasis here. Torah obedience is one of several Jewish traditions elevated in Luke: it is the only Gospel that mentions Jesus’ circumcision and that concludes with Jesus’ followers worshiping God in the Jewish temple (Luke 2:21, Luke 24:53).

As in Luke 18:18-30, Jesus makes clear that eternal life is tied not only to Torah obedience but also to using one’s possessions to benefit strangers in desperate need. Most of the actual parable itemizes numerous specific ways the Samaritan aids the injured man: he uses his own oil and wine to bandage his wounds, places him on his own animal, takes him to an inn, takes care of him, pays the innkeeper two denarii, and remarkably, promises to repay the innkeeper whatever more costs are incurred in caring for the injured man. Loving one’s neighbor in this story is risky and economically costly.

Jesus argues that inheriting eternal life is entirely dependent on loving God and neighbor (Deut 6:5, Lev 19:18). There is no indication that faith, belief, ritual acts (for example, circumcision, temple worship, baptism, Eucharist), or one’s religious or ethnic status (as a Jew or Christian) plays any role in inheriting eternal life. Ethical action is all that matters, a point Jesus emphasizes in the only two answers he offers the lawyer: “Do this and you will live…Go and do likewise.”

Jesus changes the focus of the word “neighbor” away from a recipient of love (as in Lev 19:18, “love your neighbor,” and the lawyer’s own question in Luke 10:36) to the person who does the loving (“Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”). There is a shift in this text from an object orientation, to love (“Whom shall I love?”) to a subject orientation, in which one develops a capacity for loving that is not dependent upon the identity of the one loved.

What is significant about a Samaritan?

Samaritans were ethnic and religious outcasts to many first-century Jews. Descended from intermarriage between Israelites and foreigners, Samaritans were part Jewish; they were “Mudbloods” (to use J. K. Rowling’s phrase). Religious differences were significant. Samaritans only regarded the five books of the Torah as “Scripture”; they had their own version of these texts (the Samaritan Pentateuch), and—in violation of Deut 12; they worshipped God in their own temple at Mount Gerizim rather than at the temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans were to Jews what Muslim extremists are to many Christians in America: an ethnic and religious enemy. Jews and Samaritans visited violence upon each other, and in 128 B.C.E. some Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple. To call the Samaritan in the story “good” (a word never used in the text) is to participate in a racist assumption that being “good” is an unusual and noteworthy achievement for Samaritans.

The use of the Samaritan subverts two conventional perceptions among ancient Jews. The first is the belief that eternal life is the exclusive privilege of one’s own religious (or ethnic) community. But in this story the one who inherits eternal life (because of his love for the needy man) is the religious-ethnic outsider and enemy. (Potentially disturbing as well is the tacit claim that the priest and Levite would not inherit eternal life due to their failure to love the man in need.) The story threatens a second ancient Jewish perception: referring to the Samaritan, Jesus concludes the dialogue by saying, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Jesus presents the Samaritan not as someone to pity—or even love—but as a person to imitate. The ethnic and religious enemy is not only the story’s hero; he is the moral exemplar.

Matthew S. Rindge, "Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)", n.p. [cited 27 Jun 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/good-samaritan

Contributors

Matthew S. Rindge

Matthew S. Rindge
Associate Professor, Gonzaga University

Matthew S. Rindge is associate professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington). In addition to several academic and popular articles on various subjects related to the Bible and popular culture, he is the author of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool among Ancient Conversations on Death and Possessions (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011). He is currently writing Cinematic Parables: Subverting the Religion of the American Dream (Baylor University Press).

Jesus responds to a lawyer’s question about eternal life by telling the parable of the Samaritan, a story that challenges notions of religious propriety.

Did you know…?

  • Jesus’ preferred method of teaching about God and humanity was through the vehicle of stories (parables). There are almost 40 of Jesus’ parables in the canonical Gospels, and almost one-third of Jesus’ teaching in Luke is in the form of stories.
  • The parable of the Samaritan appears only in Luke’s Gospel. It is one of eight or nine uniquely Lukan parables that are not present in any other (canonical or extracanonical) gospel. Most of these parables unique to Luke focus on wealth and possessions.
  • Far from imparting quaint moral lessons or “heavenly truths,” Jesus’ parables tend to disturb and disorient readers (or hearers) by assaulting and dismantling conventional views.
  • The same question the lawyer poses to Jesus (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”) is also later put to Jesus by a rich man (Luke 18:18). In both cases, Jesus proposes that the answer to inheriting eternal life (1) is to be found in the Torah and (2) requires divesting oneself of wealth and possessions and giving such resources to the poor and needy.
  • Luke’s gospel frequently portrays social outcasts (women, the physically disabled, tax collectors, the poor) as moral exemplars or models of behavior.
  • Luke’s gospel insists that people use their money and possessions to care for the most vulnerably poor people (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:33, Luke 16:19-31, Luke 18:18-25).

Luke 10:26

26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

Luke 10:36

36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Luke 10:28

28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:37

37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Collective ceremonies having a common focus on a god or gods.

Deut 6:5

5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Lev 19:18

18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Luke 2:21

Jesus Is Named
21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived ... View more

Luke 24:53

53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 18:18-30

The Rich Ruler
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”19Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good ... View more

Deut 6:5

5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Lev 19:18

18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Lev 19:18

18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Luke 10:36

36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Deut 12

Pagan Shrines to Be Destroyed
1These are the statutes and ordinances that you must diligently observe in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has ... View more

Luke 10:37

37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Belonging to the canon of a particular group; texts accepted as a source of authority.

Outside the accepted group of texts that form a religion's canon.

Luke 18:18

The Rich Ruler
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 12:33

33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth ... View more

Luke 14:33

33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 16:19-31

The Rich Man and Lazarus
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.20And at his gate lay a poor man ... View more

Luke 18:18-25

The Rich Ruler
18A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”19Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good ... View more

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