On Neighborliness


Domenico Fetti - Parable of the Good Samaritan...

Domenico Fetti, "Parable of the Good Samaritan" (c. 1610–1623; photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35) is unique to Luke and contributes to the third Gospel’s general emphasis on socially marginalized characters and groups.1 Introducing the parable proper is an exchange between Jesus and a νομικός (lawyer), which the lawyer begins by inquiring τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω; (Luke 10:25b; what shall I do to inherit eternal life?). Both this question and the exchange that follows resemble some later rabbinic texts, not least in the lawyer’s concern to define proper Torah obedience.2

Following on their mutual agreement that loving יהוה with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:27–28) is key to gaining eternal life,3 the lawyer’s next inquiry is τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). Although asked to vindicate the lawyer’s own thoughts about the matter (Luke 10:29a), this question follows naturally enough on the preceding discussion: it seeks Jesus’ opinion on the definition of the category of other people toward whom the key command(s) demands love to be exercised.4

Jesus’ answer to this inquiry is to tell a parable in which the main characters include two Jews, one Samaritan, and one ἄνθρωπός τις [ὃς] κατέβαινεν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ εἰς Ἰεριχὼ καὶ λῃσταῖς περιέπεσεν (Luke 10:30; certain person [who] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among bandits). Provocatively, Jesus proceeds to make out the Samaritan to be the hero of the story and inquires: τίς τούτων τῶν τριῶν πλησίον δοκεῖ σοι γεγονέναι τοῦ ἐμπεσόντος εἰς τοὺς λῃστάς; (Luke 10:36; who of these three [passers by] seems to you to have become the neighbor of the one who had fallen among the bandits?; cf. John 4:9b).5 Within Jesus’ narrative, the answer is clear: ὁ ποιήσας τὸ ἔλεος μετʼ αὐτοῦ (Luke 10:37; the one who acted compassionately with him)—that is, the Samaritan.6

There is, then, likely a bit of a double sense to Jesus’ πορεύου καὶ σὺ ποίει ὁμοίως (Luke 10:37; go and do likewise).7 In the first place, the lawyer should imitate the Samaritan in Jesus’ story and act compassionately.8 To say only this much, however, leaves the discussion quite at the place where the lawyer originally inquired τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; (Luke 10:29; who is my neighbor?). So, in the second place, the lawyer should consider as neighbors even those who stand beyond traditional boundary lines of neighborliness (Luke 10:36), even to the extent of removing such boundary lines altogether.9


1. R. T. France, “Matthew, Mark, and Luke,” in A Theology of the New Testament (ed. Donald A. Hagner; rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 237, 242–43.

2. Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1966), 159; E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977), 76–81, 112–14, 129; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 306.

3. On the joining of these two commandments, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 305n234.

4. Ibid., 306.

5. Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 231; Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160.

6. Cf. Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 160–61.

7. Blomberg, Parables, 231–32; Chrysostom, Hom. Heb., 10.8 (NPNF1, 14:417); cf. Augustine, Doctr. chr. , 1.30.31 (NPNF1, 2:530–31); Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo., 43.2 (NPNF1, 7:240); Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables, 161.

8. Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 2:55; cf. Ambrose, Paen., 1.11.52 (NPNF2, 10:338).

9. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 306–7.

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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