Being neighbor: in the ditch

good_samaritanThe Samaritan. A Samaritan was the last person who might have been expected to help – actions which reveal more than simple help, but a great deal of compassion. He attended to the beaten man. Wine would have been used for cleaning the wounds (the alcohol in it would have had an antiseptic effect). Oil, i.e. olive oil, would have eased the pain. The two appear to have been widely used by both Jews and Greeks. Perhaps a touch of irony is included as oil and wine were commonly used in Temple sacrifice. The wounded man was too weak to walk, so the Samaritan set him on his own beast (which meant that he himself had to walk), and so brought him to an inn. There he took care of him. The Samaritan did not regard his duty as done when he had brought the man to shelter. He continued to look after him.

He gave the innkeeper two denarii on account, and instructed him to look after the man. Jeremias reports that such an amount would have covered room and board for two weeks. Moreover, whatever additional costs the innkeeper might incur, the Samaritan undertook to refund on his way back. The Samaritan did more than the minimum. He saw a man in need and did all he could as compassion commanded.

This story gives a vivid example of the fulfillment of the love commandment. The lawyer’s question implies that someone is not my neighbor. Jesus’ story replies that there is no one who is not my neighbor. “Neighbor” is not a matter of blood bonds or nationality or religious communion; it is determined by the attitude a person has toward others. The priest and the Levite were well-versed in the demands of God’s law and, like the scholar, would surely have been able to interpret it for others. But they missed its deepest purpose, while the Samaritan, by practicing love, showed that he understood the law.

“Go and do likewise.” Probably the most common understanding of this text is that we are to act like the Samaritan in the text, rather than the priest or the Levite. He “sees” and “has compassion” (splagchnizomai) on the needy man in the ditch. He “cares” (epimelo – v. 34) for the man in the ditch. He also asks the innkeeper to “care” (epimelo – v. 35). The Samaritan doesn’t provide all of the direct aid to the needy man. He is also described by the lawyer as the one “doing mercy” (poieo to eleos).

The verbs used with the Samaritan are worth emulating: to have compassion others; to come (near) to others; to care for others; to do mercy to others. It is not enough just to know what the Law says, one must also do it. To put it another way, it is not enough just to talk about “what one believes,” but “what difference does it make in my life that I believe.”

In addition, the description of the robbers’ work on the dead man indicate that there would be no identifying marks about his status, his occupation, his race. How would the scholar (or the Samaritan) know if this half-dead man was a neighbor or not? He is a person who needs a neighbor. Who will respond? Who will come near? (The basic meaning of “neighbor” is Greek is “to be near”)

But why a Samaritan? Brian Stoffregen has interesting insights into this answer: If Jesus were just trying to communicate that we should do acts of mercy to the needy, he could have talked about the first man and the second man who passed by and the third one who stopped and cared for the half-dead man in the ditch. Knowing that they were a priest, Levite, and Samaritan is not necessary.

If Jesus were also making a gibe against clerics, we would expect the third man to be a layman — an ordinary Jew — in contrast to the professional clergy. It is likely that Jewish hearers would have anticipated the hero to be an ordinary Jew. (see note on Luke 10:29)

If Jesus were illustrating the need to love our enemies, then the man in the ditch would have been a Samaritan who is cared for by a loving Israelite.

One answer to the question: “Why a Samaritan?” is that we Christians might be able to learn about showing mercy from people who don’t profess Christ. Stoffregen comments, “I know that I saw much more love expressed towards each by the clients at an inpatient alcoholic/drug rehab hospital than I usually find in churches. Can we learn about ‘acting Christianly’ from AA or the Hell’s Angels?”

Green (The Gospel of Luke, 431) comments:

“The parable of the compassionate Samaritan thus undermines the determination of status in the community of God’s people on the basis of ascription [Green had noted earlier that priests and Levites are born into those positions], substituting in its place a concern with performance, the granting of status on the basis of one’s actions.”

This approach highlights some of the Luke’s themes: Since the man in the ditch had been stripped of anything that might identify him by social class, or perhaps even nationality; he is helped simply because he is a person in need. There should be no distinctions about whom we are to help. In addition, the help involved the use of one’s resources. For Luke, wealth is not necessarily evil, it depends upon how it is used.

The Man in the Ditch. Scott (Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom, 29) summarizes the parable as follows: “The parable can be summarized as follows: to enter the kingdom one must get into the ditch and be served by one’s mortal enemy.” He expands a little later: “Grace comes to those who cannot resist, who have no other alternative than to accept it. To enter the parable’s World, to get into the ditch, is to be so low that grace is the only alternative. The point may be so simple as this: only he who needs grace can receive grace” (31).

Funk (Parables and Presence, 33) adds to this image.

A Jew who was excessively proud of his blood line and a chauvinist about his tradition would not permit a Samaritan to touch him, much less minister to him. In going from Galilee to Judea, he would cross and recross the Jordan to avoid going through Samaria. The parable therefore forces upon its hearers the question: who among you will permit himself or herself to be served by a Samaritan? In a general way it can be replied that that only those who have nothing to lose by so doing can afford to do so. But note that the victim in the ditch is given only a passive role in the story. Permission to be served by the Samaritan is thus inability to resist. Put differently, all who are truly victims, truly disinherited, have no choice but to give themselves up to mercy. The despised half-breed has become the instrument of grace: as listeners, the Jews choke on the irony.

He concludes his comments on this parable quite succinctly (34) :

… the parable of the Good Samaritan may be reduced to two propositions:

  1. In the Kingdom of God mercy comes only to those who have no right to expect it and who cannot resist it when it comes.
  2. Mercy always comes from the quarter from which one does not and cannot expect it.

An enterprising theologian might attempt to reduce these two sentences to one: In the kingdom mercy is always a surprise.


Luke 10:33 Samaritan: Luke has already noted hostility to Jesus’ ministry (9:53). Who are the Samaritans? Samaritan Version. The Samaritans have insisted that they are direct descendants of the N Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the N kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.e. The inscription of Sargon II records the deportation of a relatively small proportion of the Israelites (27,290, according to the annals [ANET, 284–85]), so it is quite possible that a sizable population remained that could identify themselves as Israelites, the term that the Samaritans prefer for themselves. Samaritan theology of history would place the basic schism with the South at the time Eli moved the sanctuary from Shechem to Shiloh, establishing both an illegitimate priesthood and place of worship. From the time of Moses until that move was the Era of Divine Favor. With that move began the Era of Disfavor, which would exist until the coming of the Taheb or savior. Old Testament Version. Jewish accounts, characterized by 2 Kings 17 and Josephus (Ant 9.277–91) claim that the Samaritans are descendants of colonists brought into the region of Samaria by the Assyrians from other lands they had conquered, including Cuthah, and thus the Jewish designation of Samaritans as Cutheans (Ant 9.290). The Jews have argued that the veneer of Israelite religion displayed by the Samaritans is the result of instruction by an Israelite priest repatriated from Assyria after the colonists had been attacked by lions sent by God (2 Kings 17:25–26).

moved with compassion: splagchnizomai; this term is most commonly used by Luke to express the divine compassion revealed in Jesus.

Luke 10:36 Which of these…was neighbor: Jesus reverses the question from one of legal obligation (who deserves my love) to one of gift-giving (to whom can I show my love as neighbor).


  • Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, Mich.: B. Eerdmans, 1985), p.6
  • Robert Walker Funk, Parables and Presence: Forms of the New Testament Tradition (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Pr; 1982) pp.33-4
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997) 229-30
  • Arland Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000) pp. 93-103
  • Joachim Jeremias, Parables of Jesus 2nd Edition (Princeton, NJ: Prentiss Hall, 1992)
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 171-76
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.957
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) 205–9.
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at


  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 319–322
  • Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, and Dermot A. Lane. The New Dictionary of Theology (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000) 652

Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at

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