25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

The world at the time of the text

Geography of the text

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas/phrases/concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today/challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

Scholars generally agree that the Gospel according to Luke was written in elegant Greek some 50 years after the death of Jesus, probably in the 80s. The Gospel is the first of two works by the author, its companion volume being the Acts of Apostles. Tradition has given the name of Luke to the author, but there is no certainty that Luke was the author’s name, and if it was, that he was the Luke mentioned in the Acts of Apostles and the Letters of Paul. Luke may have been a Syrian from Antioch. Most scholars conclude from elements in the Gospel that the author was a Gentile writing for a community predominantly made up of Gentile Christians. More details about the Gospel according to Luke can be found HERE.

Each Gospel is a testimony of faith originating out of a Christian community. The author reflects the concerns and issues of the community. In Luke’s predominantly Gentile Christian community, it is likely that the material wealth of some of its members, the poor among and around them and questions of wealth and poverty were issues of debate. These concerns are a characteristic of the Gospel.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

The parable, which we often use outside its literary context, is actually offered as a response to a very specific question. Placing it back into its context we find a narrative structure (the parable itself) inside a wider narrative; that of the questioning lawyer. The deliberate nature of the parable itself is noteworthy: we can ask ‘why’ about every feature it contains. 

Verse 27 is a direct reference to the commandments drawn from Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18).  In Matthew and Mark, the response comes to the question about “the greatest commandment” in Jesus’ public ministry in Jerusalem.  In Luke, the commandments to ‘love the Lord your God’ and ‘love your neighbour’ are collapsed into one.

Characters & setting

Going down from Jerusalem to Jericho:
Jerusalem is approximately 2500 feet above sea level and Jericho 700 feet below, so travelling between them is literally downward.  The road between the two was, and remains, inhospitable wilderness and Jesus’ hearers would have recognised it as dangerous terrain on which to travel.  Further, Jesus places the location for the parable in Judea, land in which the Samaritan was an unwelcome foreigner.

Samaritan:
The ancestral antipathy between Jews and Samaritans was well established by the time of Jesus.  Both groups considered themselves to be the true descendants of Abraham, and the other to be unworthy to carry that description. The identification of this ‘certain Samaritan’ (v 33) stands in contrast to the those in 9:53 who are presented as hostile towards Jesus’ ministry.

Priest:
Priests and Levites were not necessarily among the wealthy aristocracy but their work at the Temple in Jerusalem did place them from the tribe of Aaron and so they represented the leadership of the people. Consequently, their religious duties and purity requirements limited their contact with others.  The inclusion of the priest in the story demonstrates the essential distinction – not between Jews and Samaritans, but between those recognised as worthy and those not.

Lawyer
The lawyer would have been familiar with the law. In seeking to ‘justify himself’ (v 29) he is therefore pushing at a point. His motivation is unknown: how we read his question and the question Jesus poses after the parable is unclear…was he trying to win an argument against Jesus, to prove a point, or was he genuinely asking Jesus to clarify an important ethical question: what is the nature and extent of obligation?

Ideas/phrases/concepts

Telling a story to answer a question:
Some of the most complex questions have no easy answer: they are best dealt with in a story which provokes thought and teases the mind. What this parable means is key – and made explicit with the wider context of the lawyer. 

Neighbours:
The question of ‘who is neighbour’ is central to the passage (v 29). In the Old Testament a ‘neighbour’ was a fellow Israelite; later this understanding extended to travellers in the land. However, the religious sects in the time of Jesus, particularly the Essenes and the Pharisees were quite strict in limiting their interactions.  

Reversal:
The choice of character is important…can the point be made with ordinary people – or is the message one of reversal: in God’s time those people from whom you expect least will do the most? 

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

The Samaritan had every reason not to become involved as he passed by the injured man.  As a foreigner on hostile territory, he may well have sought to avoid a situation which could have led to him being suspected of having committed the attack, placing himself in direct danger.  Despite the danger the Samaritan does stop and care for the injured man.  The narrative is told in a matter-of-fact style without embellishment, highlighting the integrity of the Samaritan.

This narrative is often shared as an illustration of how to care for one’s neighbour, and the term good Samaritan has become synonymous with someone who cares for others.  That would assign the term ‘neighbour’ to the man robbed and left for dead and the commandment to ‘love your neighbour’ as a directive to care for those in trouble.

However, Jesus turns the question into a different one.  He asks the lawyer, who was neighbour to the one in distress?  The answer to this question assigns the Samaritan as ‘neighbour’. Through this discourse Jesus forced the lawyer firstly to claim the Samaritan as his neighbour and therefore a member of the community.  Secondly, the lawyer was forced to recognise in the Samaritan an exemplar of neighbourliness – it is the Samaritan who has modelled what it is to be neighbour.  The parable demonstrates that in Jesus’ eyes it is more important to be a neighbour than to know who your neighbour is, widening the love of neighbour to include love of enemy.

Church interpretation & usage

In the encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti’, Pope Francis invokes the use of this parable to widen our circle of love: “The parable is clear and straightforward, yet it also evokes the interior struggle that each of us experiences as we gradually come to know ourselves through our relationships with our brothers and sisters” (FT #69). Pope Francis shows how Jesus “asks us not to decide who is close enough to be our neighbour, but rather that we ourselves become neighbours to all” (FT #80).

This sets a clear challenge for global politics in particular: “The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project” (FT #69). 

Liturgical Usage

This reading is used on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year C, which falls at around the beginning of Term 3 in Australian schools.  It also inspires the Spirituality of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who live under the Rule of St Benedict.