Good Samaritan

Luke: 10.25-37

The lawyer’s question and Jesus’ answer don’t quite match up, and that’s part of the point. He wants to know who counts as ‘neighbor’. For him, God is the God of Israel, and neighbours are Jewish neighbours. For Jesus (and for Luke, who highlights (p. 127) this theme), Israel’s God is the God of grace for the whole world, and a neighbour is anybody in need. Jesus’ telling question at the end isn’t asking who the Samaritan regarded as his neighbour. He asked, instead, who turned out to be the neighbour of the half-dead Jew lying in the road. Underneath the apparently straightforward moral lesson (‘go and do the same’), we find a much sterner challenge, exactly fitting in with the emphasis of Luke’s story so far. Can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbour? If you can’t, you might be left for dead.— Tom Wright, London, SPCK (2004), Indian Edition, Delhi, ISPCK, 2015, pp. 127-28


But the priest had a special problem. The wounded man beside the road was unconscious and stripped. If the victim was a fellow Jew, and especially a law-abiding Jew, the priest would have been responsible to reach out and help him. But this victim was naked and unconscious, so how could anyone be sure of his ethnic-linguistic identity?11No doubt, the priest wanted to do his duty under the law.  But what was his duty?  (p.292)

The wounded man could have been dead. If so the priest who approached him would become ceremonially defiled, and if defiled he would need to return to Jerusalem and undergo a week-long process of ceremonial purification. It would take some time to arrange such things. Meanwhile, he could not eat from the tithes or even collect them.  The same ban would apply to his family and servants. Distribution to the poor would also have been impossible. What’s more, the victim along the road might have been Egyptian, Greek, Syrian or Phoenician, in which case, the priest was not responsible under the law to do anything. If the  priest approached the beaten man and touched him and the man later died, the priest would have been obliged to rend his robes, and in so doing would have violated laws against the destruction of valuable property. The poor priest did not have an easy time trying to determine his duty under the law. After deciding that his ceremonial purity was too important to risk he continued on his way.— Kenneth E. Bailey,  Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, Illinois, IVP Academic, 2008, pp. 292-93

11. Even circumcision would not settle the matter for him. Samaritans and Egyptians were circumcised.—p. 292

The Levites functioned in the temple as assistants to the priest. This particular Levite probably knew that a priest was ahead of him on the road and may have been an assistant to that same priest. Since the priest had set a precedent, the Levite could pass by with an easy conscience….Could the Levite ride into Jericho with a wounded man whom the priest, in obedience to his understanding of the law, had opted to ignore? Such an act would be an insult to the priest!—ibid. p. 293

…Here the parable assumes the wounded man to be a Jew.  It would have been more acceptable to the audience if Jesus had told a story about a good Jew who helped a wounded Samaritan on the way to Shechem. The Jewish audience might have managed to praise a “good Jew” even though he helped a hated Samaritan. It is, however, a different matter to tell a story about a good Samaritan who helps a wounded Jew, especially after the Jewish priest and Levite fail to turn aside to assist the unconscious stranger!—ibid. p. 294

…A Samaritan would not be safe in a Jewish town with a wounded Jew over the back of his riding animal. Community vengeance may be enacted against the Samaritan, even if he has saved the life of the Jew….—ibid. p. 295