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Parable of the Good Samaritan

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Stained glass window, France.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, a Jewish traveler is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured Jew. Jesus tells the parable in response to the question of who one's "neighbor" is.

Portraying a Samaritan in positive light would have come as a shock to Jesus' audience.[1] It is typical of his provocative speech in which conventional expectations are turned upside down.[1]

The colloquial phrase "good Samaritan," meaning someone who helps a stranger, derives from this parable.

The parable

The parable is found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25-37.

The Gospel of Luke provides the context for the parable as:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then replied with a story:

“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Levite walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Historical contexts and modern recasting

Samaritans were hated by the story's target audience, the Jews, to such a degree that the Lawyer did not mention them by name but as "The one who had mercy on him." The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews. The enmity was in essence religious: both groups accused each other of misinterpreting the Torah, of falsely considering themselves God's chosen people, and of conducting false worship, unacceptable to God. Thus the parable, as told originally, incorporated the current religious and ethnic tension to teach, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than burnt sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). But as the story reached those who were unaware of the oppression of the Samaritans, this aspect of the parable became less and less discernible: fewer and fewer people ever heard of them in any context other than as a description. Today the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably.

Thus cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behaviour that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve[improper synthesis?]; it also means that not sharing the same background is no excuse to behave poorly, as there is a universal moral law and kindness should be freely given to all people. Many Christians have used it as an example of Christianity's opposition to racial, ethnic and sectarian prejudice.

Allegory of the Fall and the Redemption

According to John Welch:[2]

"This parable’s content is clearly practical and dramatic in its obvious meaning, but a time-honored Christian tradition also saw the parable as an impressive allegory of the Fall and Redemption of mankind. This early Christian understanding of the good Samaritan is depicted in a famous eleventh-century cathedral in Chartres, France. One of its beautiful stained-glass windows portrays the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the top of the window, and, in parallel, the parable of the good Samaritan at the bottom. This illustrates “a symbolic interpretation of Christ’s parable that was popular in the Middle Ages.”[3] ... The roots of this allegorical interpretation reach deep into Early Christianity. In the second century A.D., Irenaeus in France and Clement of Alexandria both saw the good Samaritan as symbolizing Christ Himself saving the fallen victim, wounded with sin. A few years later, Clement’s pupil Origen stated that this interpretation came down to him from earlier Christians, who had 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.[4]
"This allegorical reading was taught not only by ancient followers of Jesus, but it was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, being advocated by Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen, and in the fourth and fifth centuries by Chrysostom in Constantinople, Ambrose in Milan, and Augustine in North Africa. This interpretation is found most completely in two other medieval stained-glass windows, in the French cathedrals at Bourges and Sens."

Appearance in popular culture

File:2003 Austria 50 Euro Christian Charity back.jpg
  • The parable of the Good Samaritan has been the theme for many collectors’ coins and medals. An example is the Austrian Christian Charity coin, minted in March 12, 2003. The coin shows the Good Samaritan with the wounded man, on his horse, as he takes him to an inn for medical attention.
  • The term "good Samaritan" is used as a common metaphor:
    The word now applies to any charitable person, especially one who, like the man in the parable, rescues or helps out a needy stranger.[5]
  • Dramatic film adaptations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan include Samaritan[4], part of the widely acclaimed[6] Modern Parables DVD Bible study series[5]. Samaritan, which sets the parable in modern times, stars Antonio Albadran[6]in the role of the Good Samaritan.[7].
  • A comedy sketch based on the telling of the parable of the good Samaritan appeared on the BAFTA award-winning British television series That Mitchell and Webb Look.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Luke" p. 271-400
  3. Malcolm Miller, Chartres Cathedral (1985), 68.
  4. Origen, Homily 34.3, Joseph T. Lienhard, trans., Origen: Homilies on Mark, Fragments on Mark (1996), 138.
  5. Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, & Literary Allusions
  6. See e.g., [1],[2], [3]
  7. See IMDB


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