Good Samaritan ... Gift for God

好撒瑪利亞人 ... 活著就是愛

To love another person is to see the face of God

~Victor Hugo, Les Miserable


Among the synoptic gospel, “Good Samaritan” (Lu10.25~37) is one of the distinct parable occurs on the ‘Travel Journey’. There are many debating issues that are inconclusive by scholars in this parable. Therefore, we need to make some presupposition and scope of discussion before further discussion. On the other hand, most of the commentator discuss the parable without considering the context in Luke. Therefore, this paper will has the exegesis based on historical-literacy approach and redaction approach. Finally, some application principles of the parables are draw. And their contemporary meanings will be discussed at the end. This paper is divided into:

Presupposition and Scope

In this paper, the Lu.10.25~37 is presupposed as a parable but not an example story. Luke writes this as a ‘distinct’ parable (from Q and L sources) which has more them one meaning when interpreted. It is limited to the exegesis based on historical-literacy approach and redaction approach. No source criticism and allegorized approach are used.

The writing structure/pattern is presupposed as the yelammedenu midrash pattern which is the pattern of theological/exegetical discussion of the written torah among the rabbi. In this exegetical discussion, two questions concerning Deut.6.5 and Lev.19.18 are discussed. In other words, the setting of the narrative is set to a neutral exegetical discussion; but not a hostile setting of testing (temptation) of Jesus. Similarly, the statue of the Jews in the parable is presupposed as ‘neutral’.

Background Information

Jesus lives in a environment that was bound by some regulations. In religion aspects, the Pharisees keen on developing the Halakah. Their concern was not only to apply the Law more accurately, but also to ameliorate its demands where necessary to make it possible to live fully within the Law understood.

On the social aspects, the people are bound by the social convention (social tyranny) that is ‘the prevailing opinion and feeling,... the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent form them’. One of the example is the social antipathy to the Samaritans.

Exegesis based on Historical-Literacy Approach

In this two rounds of exegetical discussions between Jesus and the scribe, the scribe may want to test the Jesus’ qualification as a teacher. Therefore, the scribe tests him whether he can give some guidance on the Torah.

The first exegetical question: ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ v.25~29

On the way of Jesus travels to the Jerusalem while a lawyer (scribe) ,who is an expert in Jewish law, is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. It may be imagined that Jesus and disciples encounter the scribe. The scribe put a test on Jesus in order to see if he is a real teacher because of Jesus strange rabbi‘s teaching. The atmosphere of the discussion may be quite neutral. He uses a formal beginning to title Jesus as a ‘teacher’ to show respect, then he asks “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” that is a question that has been commonly discussed among the rabbi who have two opinions on it. Therefore, this is a suitable question for the test. The scribe may expect his theological view point and a correct answer with respect to Halakhah, the rules of conduct of life. However, Jesus does not answer directly, he uses the counter-question pattern normally used in the yelammedenu midrash pattern. In his counter-question, Jesus asks him ‘How do you interpreted (perceive the sense of) the written torah on this point (have you not read)? (as you are an expert in the written Torah.)’ Jesus changes the focus of the test from what his teaching to what the scribe has learnt that lead to the scribe to answer the question himself. He answers “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”. It is unknown whether the scribe quote this combined command from what Jesus have said before or pre-Jesus writings. The key point is that there is only one shared verb - ‘love’ (which has the meaning of ‘attach’)in the answer and there are four prepositional phrase to describe it. Therefore, it claims that one should devote all his resource (includes loyalty, behavior and all himself) to love/attach God. Loving/attaching neighbor ‘in the way you should love yourself’ should be in the same extend of loving God. In other words, loving God is inseparated with loving neighbor. It implies that loving neighbor is the way of expressing our love to God. After this reply, Jesus confirms his answer and orders him to do this continually. Jesus means that there is no theory to be exposed but rather a practice to be adopted.

The second exegetical question: Who is my neighbor? v.30~37

After the first round discussion, the scribe loses his advance and being challenged. So, he wants to justify his first question and regain his initiative. It implies that “This is something that need to be cleared up!”. The second round of discussion begins with the scribe‘s supplementary question (to the first question): ‘Who is my neighbor?’ based on the Lev.19.18. that is also a commonly discussed question in the rabbini circle . They are taught in common school “to do good to whom they know it... and do not help the sinner.” The scribe is quite egocentric and expects the scope of the neighbor; so that he can follow this ‘concrete’ instruction and has the assurance of inheriting eternal life through keeping the law. Jesus uses a parable to interpret the Lev.19.18 that is a common practice in the rabbinic discussion. In this parable, Jesus uses the setting and characters that are familiar to the hearer. Moreover, an unexpected plot that ‘reverse the polar of world’ that break the inmost belief of the hearer. The combination of the 2 Chron.28.8~15 and Hos.6.6~9. to form the parable is the rabbi parable tradition.

There is a certain man (the identity is unknown, but may be Jew) travels down form Jerusalem to Jericho. This is well known as a ‘blood road’ in that time and there are many bands of robbers on it. The man (victim) is fell in the hand of robbers, robbed, stripped, and beaten ‘next to death’. It should be beard in mind that the parable is told in the point of view of the victim; Jesus seems to tell that “imagine that you are the victim, robbed...”. Then, Jesus uses the word, ‘suddenly’ to create an atmosphere that a hope for the helpless victim emergence; the hearer expect something happen. A Priest, the highest respected social and religious class who may have finished the service in temple, come and has a look, then pass-by-the-other-side. Then a Levities, a priest immediate assistant, pass and do likewise. (although a Levities has less ritual regulations, he may has the similar thinking to the Priests). The hearer may be shocked why the respected leaders unnoticed the victim. The next-to-death victim may be a good candidate for them to mercy, but they have sound excuses to suppress their mercy because they ‘must’ love their God and keep their religious ‘business’. Therefore, they need to:

In the parable-telling technique, two people (Priests and Levities) are enough to validate their faults (Lev.19.15). Furthermore, the hearer may expect a third traveler come and bring the climax. To be most surprised, a Samaritan, who is look down upon by Jews, ‘come down upon him’ and ‘had compassion’ on the man. The Samaritan does not consider that it may be a pitfall, he mixes oil and wine and pours them on the victim‘s wound, gives dressing to his wound, takes him on the back of the beast, go down to the Jericho and takes care of him in a inn, gives two denarii to the innkeeper and promises to has the responsibility of the victim’s expense that makes sure the victim’s freedom. Although, the victim may make angry on the Samaritan because the Jews can not receive any benefit from the Samaritan; the Samaritan is still willing to take care of him. It is noted that only few words are used to describe the behavior of robbers, Priests and Levities but a detail description of the Samaritan’s doing and his ’ultimate‘ care that he devote all his resources (his time, money, strength and the safety) and does not expect any returns.

(different reader/hearer may have different response to the parable, see “Meanings toward the first reader” in next section)

Jesus changes the focus of the question: the concern of the scope of neighbor is changed to taking the perspective of the victim, answering who has become the victim‘s neighbor. The scribes is challenged to answer the question. He admits the one (the Samaritan) who shows the mercy on the victim is his neighbor. It seems that Jesus gives time for the scribe choosing to ’become‘ one of the role in the parable:

(To be the expert in the law, the wounded man was a subject to discuss)

To the robbers, the wounded man was someone to use and exploit

To the religious men, the wounded man was a problem to be avoided

To the innkeeper, the wounded man was a customer to serve for a fee

To the Samaritan, the wounded man was a human being worth being cared for and loved

Finally, Jesus order him choosing to ‘become’ the neighbor of the needy.

The scribe wants a ‘theological definition’ of the neighbor (a object); however, Jesus gives him an example and orders him to become the ‘subject’ of the neighbor. This order is a supplementary answer to the first question which means that loving the neighbor continually is a method of inheriting eternal life.

Jesus has pass the test as a ‘real’ scholar because he can do superior exegesis that gives a fresh guidance of conduct to them.


With the historical-literacy approach, we can find out that Jesus, a good teacher who respects the Torah, does not have in depth theological discussion on the method of ‘inheriting eternal life’ but a practical guidance (as a rabbi done) on ‘showing compassion/attachment’ in action that is the way of showing love to God but not to keep the narrow-interpreted law. Moreover, he gives a parable, a irony picture of Jewish religious leader who are pedantic, silly and blind by their sound excuse and the Samaritan who is mildly, big-hearted and ‘double-unclean’. This parable shows the limitation of the Torah that enslave the pity of people. Then, he asks the scribe not to be egocentric (considering his personal salvation only), but to take up the perspective of the victims to have the empathy of them and choose to become the ’subject‘ of neighbor.

There is some precautions of interpretation. The teaching of anti-Judaism, anti-clergy, anti-racism and ‘loving your enemies’ should not be mentioned in this exegesis approach because the key characters is the victim. Moreover, the allegory interpretation is improper.

* * *

However, there are some questions left that need to be answered by redaction approach. Why the passage is placed in ‘Travel Narrative’ of Luke? Why Samaritan is mention in the parables? Using the redaction approach can not only answers the question but also completes the picture of the passages.

Findings through Redaction Approach

Final words to the disciples

In the ‘travel narrative’, Jesus is going to ‘judge’ the world and has many important final teachings to his disciples. The parable used by Jesus is a standard that the disciple’s behavior can be judged with. Moreover, it is an example for the disciples to illustrate how to love the God through showing compassion to others (a method of inheriting eternal life) as Jesus so loves the man that he even gives his life on the ‘fateful’ journey. Therefore Lk.10.25~42 (includes the example-story of Maria and Mathra) is outlined as the ‘Love command of the disciple’. However, why the Samaritan is mentioned?

There is a great conflict between the Jews and Samaritans. Jews did not only have stigma on them, but also a great conflict between them. That is why James and John want to take the revival by asking Jesus to destroy the city of Samaritan by fire (Lk.9.51~56). Therefore, Jesus tries to use the parable to share his tender love with disciples on Samaritan and hope to relive the disciple‘s conflict with Samaritans because the Samaritan may be the ’real‘ neighbor of Jews; they should love each other that may set them free from the social convention. Moreover, they should forgive their enemy as Jesus forgives the sinner and even die for them. On the other hand, it hints that it is a preparation for the preaching to Samaritan (Ac.1.8).

Meanings toward the first reader

There may have different meanings toward different first reader, therefore, two categories of possible reader (disciples, Gentile-Christian and Jew-Christian) will be discussed only. (the meanings toward the disciples has been mentioned in previous section.)

Luke writes the gospel mainly for the reader of the Gentiles. They may have the identity-crises if it is necessary to obey the Judaism teaching. The Gentile-Christian and Jew-Christen can find the answer that they are free from Judaism Teaching. It is because the parable does not follow the common social convention in that time; it seems to point out that the Judaism teaching have their limitation of being a constraint of loving God and neighbor. In other words, they have the ‘freedom’ of choosing to becoming the neighbor but not limited by the bondage of Jewish teaching and social convention.


Luke writes this parable in the ‘travel narrative’ to share the God‘s tender love with the reader and he teaches the loving of God, loving and forgiving each other even between the enemies (Jews and Samaritan). Moreover, he wants to show the universalism of salvation. Finally, he answers the questions that may be asked by the Gentiles and Jew-Christian.

Excursus: saved by ‘doing’ or by grace?

It seems Jesus agrees allusion to Lev.18.5 which promised a life to those who obey YHWH‘s law. Therefore, there is a conflict between the synoptic gospel and the forth gospel on salvation. The possible solution is that the scribe stresses his ‘being’ over ‘doing/loving’ except keeping his narrow interpreted law. Therefore, Jesus respects the Torah, does not be critical on ‘doing’ but encourages the scribe to take action.

Moreover, ‘eternal life’ should be understand as the resultant work of faith in the travel narrative. The disciples are taught how to behave as they have the eternal life. It is reminded that the aims of this passage is not on the discussion of the method of inheriting eternal life.

Application Principles

Combing the findings of historical-literacy approach and redaction approach, we may get the theme of the passage:

“Be a disciples, having the freedom of using all one‘s resources to show compassion/attach to the needy (which is a gift for God) in the same extent of loving God is the resultant work of inheriting eternal life.”

Moreover, some application principles that are listed below:

Contemporary Meanings

Are the Hong Kong disciple‘s inmost belief broken by the parable of the ’Good Samaritan‘? Are we willing to renew our daily life by the words?

In Hong Kong, the so called ‘evangelical’ church believe that the most important job of the church is preaching: inheriting of eternal life by the faith in Christ. It is not a wrong belief. However, some of them are on the extreme that they think preaching is the ‘only’ job of church while the social concern and action have no meaning for because the world/society is not their home. Under this religious convention, they are blind not to show a ‘holistic’ and ‘ultimate’ care to the needy. Moreover, they have sound excuse to refuse so:

The parable gives us a reflection that the Samaritan does not focus on the salvation but cares the victim’s physical needs and shows compassion to the needy. Should the believer renew their belief on the mission of the church? Rev. Ngai, the chief executive of World Vision Hong Kong, reminds us that “This is the greatest disaster if the Christian look at the unfortunate but pay no attention on it!”

Fortunately, there are some church believe that showing compassion is a expression of Jesus‘ love; therefore, different charity organizations, schools and hospitals, etc. are built. No one can denied the contribution of the church. However, have the church done the mission perfectly? No! To be shocked, some need people are not accepted by the church! They are the margin of the Hong Kong society, such as, mental retarded person, rehabilitated psychiatric patient, released criminal, etc.;

Should the church accept these helpless people who do need the love and acceptance of Christ? The church should do these but she has sound excuses to refuse so. The church leader (the Priests and Levities) refuse the unwelcome people (our enemies?) by the sound excuse:

What is the difference between the church member and the resident of the Tung-Tau Estate? Are we the slave of the social convention? Are the church found for the ‘health’(Lk.5.31.) middle-class only?

The unwelcome people are accepted by the social charity organization (the non-Christian, the “unclean”?) and the Catholic Organization (the cult?). Who are the good neighbor of the needy? Who do inherit the eternal life / show the work after saved? We must take the perspective of the suffering in order to have the empathy with them, and choose to become their neighbor.

Are we willing to do some voluntary work on the ‘surface’ only as some social leaders indicated, but not to devote ourselves to give the ‘ultimate’ care and ‘attachment’ to the needy? When we claim that we devote all our resources to love the God (in tongue?), should we devote all our resources to love the neighbor in the same extent as a gift for God too? All questions brought out have no concrete answers. This is our time of judging ourselves by the words of God when our inmost belief is broken.

Mother Teresa, a good neighbor, do not have in depth theological discussion on the matter, but has setup up a practical example for us. When Mother Teresa takes the perspective of the needy, her heart is surely broken; she choose to become the ‘subject’ of a good neighbor and does not expect any returns. She says that “Serving other is our only way of expressing love to God. We must devote all ourselves to the needy...”.


Let Your Heart Be Broken



Let your heart be broken for a world in need;

feed the mouths that hunger, soothe the wounds that bleed,

give the cup of water and the loaf of bread -

be the hands of the Jesus, serving in His stead.


Let your heart be tender and your vision clear;

see mankind as God sees, serve Him far and near.

Let your heart be broken by a brother‘s pain;

share your resources, give and give again.

~ Let your heart be broken: Sounds of Grace


After the exegesis based on the approach of historical-literacy and redaction, a whole picture of the parable is given. We should not fall into the trap of ‘playing game’ of theological and exegetical discussion, but to love and serve each other as a gift for loving God.

Be a Gift for God!

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