Who Was the Neighbor: The Priest, Levite, or Samaritan?
Parables are stories that teach moral lessons and life applications. Usually, the story is short so the listeners can remember and reflect on what is being said. Since a parable is a story, it has all the characteristics of any other story. There is a setting, a few characters, a beginning, a plot (usually the longest part), and an ending. Everybody who studies parables should look for those things in every parable no matter how short they are.
Some people think Jesus is the only one who told parables. While He told a lot of parables that are in all of the gospels, there are other parables in the Bible as well.
One familiar parable in the Old Testament is told by Nathan when he was talking to David about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-15).
Neither Jesus nor the others who told parables did not walk up to people and say, "Hey, let me tell you a parable." There were reasons for the telling of parables. Here are the occasions for parables that were told in the Bible.
- to answer a question
- to solve a problem
- to settle a dispute
- to inform
- to get listeners to determine the life application
Do not confuse the reason for the parable with the parable itself. This is explained below in the commentary of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. All the other parables follow the same format.
Keep in mind that parables are stories. That means they are fictional and the events never happened. Don't make the mistake that the situations in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parables of the Good Samaritan are true.
Occasion for the Parable of the Good Samaritan
The occasion for the Parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10:25-29. An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. He asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked the teacher of the law what was written in the law.
The man answered correctly by saying, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Then the teacher of the law asked, “And who is my neighbor?”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Instead of Jesus answering the man's question, Jesus told him and the crowd a parable. The parable itself is found in Luke 10:30-37. You can always tell where the parable begins because the speaker introduces it. Then he tells the parable in the format and order of a story as mentioned above.
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds and poured on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, carried him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denariia and gave them to the innkeeper. He told him to look after him and he would pay him more for any extra expense.
When Jesus came to the end of the parable, He asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Parts of the Parable
Look back at the parable stated above and see that the parable follows the format of all parables.
On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho
A man who was robbed, a certain priest, a Levite, the good Samaritan. Usually, names are not mentioned in parables. "A certain man" or a "certain woman" are generic terms that could apply to anyone. Robbers and the innkeepers were talked about but were not actually characters in the parable.
A man was robbed and beaten on the road and left for half-dead
Three travelers saw the man on the road. Two passed by on the other side. Only one stopped to help him. The plot is the longest part that tells what the Samaritan did.
The Samaritan takes the man to the end and pays the innkeeper to care for him.
Commentary About the Parable
The only way to go to Jerusalem is up. Zion is another name for Jerusalem. Remember the song, "Marching Up to Zion." The travelers on the long desolate road were probably coming down from business or a religious service in Jerusalem.
The man was probably a poor one because all the robbers took were his clothes which left him exposed and very vulnerable after he had been beaten.
A certain priest was going down from Jerusalem. He probably had his Bible tucked under his arm. When the priest saw the man, he didn't lift a finger to help him. Instead, he crossed the road and continued walking on the other side. He did this even though the law commanded love, mercy, compassion, and help for one's neighbor.
A Levite did the same thing as the priest did. He was from the tribe of Levi that had been set apart by God for His service. However, when the Levite saw the man, he passed by on the other side of the road. The Levite, like the priest, knew the law, but neither one of them practiced it.
The third traveler was a Samaritan, a despised person. When he saw the man and the condition he was in, he was moved with compassion and did not hesitate to help him. He bound up his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. He set the man on his own beast and took him to an inn. He gave the innkeeper two denarius to care for the man. That amount was worth 17 cents, but it was the payment for a day's labor. The Samaritan promised to return to give the innkeeper more if it was needed.
Of the three travelers who saw the man who had been beaten and robbed on the road, the Samaritan proved to be a good neighbor to someone he didn't know. He did something the priest and the Levite didn't do even though they were expected to have done so.
After the Parable
After Jesus finished telling the parable, he addressed the teacher of the law and asked him the same question he has asked Jesus in the beginning: "Who is my neighbor."
The teacher of the law answered correctly. Jesus told him to go and do likewise.
The Idiom: "The Good Samaritan"
The idiom "good Samaritan" comes from this parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. A good Samaritan is a person who does good for others who are in need without any reward or recognition. He does things because he has compassion.