The parable traditionally called “The Good Samaritan” appears in the Gospel of Luke. To introduce the parable, Luke depicts a lawyer asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” This is a good question that people still ask today.
Jesus responds by telling the story of a traveler, robbers who attack him, a priest and a Levite who fail to help him, a man from Samaria who tends to him, and the innkeeper whom the Samaritan pays for long-term care. We can enter into this parable by identifying with any or all these characters and by asking questions of love and righteousness, danger and responsibility.
We should also pay attention to the parable’s historical setting. Numerous commentaries incorrectly claim that the priest and Levite avoided the man because of purity regulations. This reading is wrong for many reasons, the most important of which is that, according to Jewish tradition, saving a life always takes priority over issues of purity. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the best explanations for the men’s failure to help. He proposed that the priest and Levite were afraid. They ask, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me, for there are bandits on the road? The Samaritan ask the better question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Although the expression “good Samaritan” commonly means “someone who stops to help,” in Jewish antiquity “good Samaritan” would have sounded peculiar. For most Jews, the were no “good Samaritans” because Samaritans were the enemy. Samaritans, in turn, thought there were no “good Jews” because the Jews were the enemy.
The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus changes the question. He asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” The lawyer cannot say the hated name Samaritan. But he gets the right answer: “The one who showed him mercy.”
The words of By Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso