GOOD SAMARITAN The parable of the good Samaritan is told in
Luke 10:30-35 in response to a lawyer’s request for a definition of “neighbor”
in the second of the great commandments: “thou shalt love thy neighbor
as thyself.” Jesus tells the story to make evident that a good neighbor
comes sometimes from the least expected quarter and that true charity transcends
the limits of community. A traveler is set upon by thieves, robbed, beaten,
and left for dead. Two subsequent travelers, a priest and a Levite, observe
his tattered body, but hasten on their way. A third, who would have been
considered both an alien and a moral inferior, stops to give aid, then
carries the man to a hospice where he undertakes for his recuperation expenses.
The Samaritan was far from a socius to the Jew, and Jesus’ story
would have shocked his hearers, whose expectation would have been that
such a “reprobate” would more likely have finished off what the muggers
had begun. The parable is intended to chasten self-righteousness.
The earliest allegorization of the parable is provided by Origen (Hom.
34 (PG 13.1886)), who may well be reflecting the exegesis of apostolic
times. He writes:
…the man who went down is Adam; Jerusalem means
Paradise; Jericho, the world; the robbers, the enemy powers;
the Priest stands for the Law; the Levite for the Prophets;
the Samaritan for Christ. The wounds stand for our disobedience;
the beast, the body of the Lord. The common house, that is the
inn, which receives all who wish to enter it, is interpreted as the
Church. Furthermore, the two denarii are understood to mean the
Father and the Son; the innkeeper, the Head of the Church, to whom
the plan of redemption and its means have been entrusted. And concerning
that which the Samaritan promises at his return, this was a figure of the
Second Coming of the Saviour.
This teaching reached the West in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen
and is faithfully transmitted by St. Ambrose (Expositio Evangelii secundum
Lucam (PL 15.1806), St. Augustine (Quaestiones Evangeliorum
(PL 35.1340)), and the Venerable Bede (In Lucae Evangelium Expositio
(PL 92.469)) among the most noteworthy.
As the Samaritan pericope came to be employed in the liturgy, its exegesis
became even more widely known; portions of Bede’s commentary on this passage
were, e.g., used in several lessons at Matins in the Roman and Sarum rites.
Liturgical commentators such as Rupert of Deutz (De Divinis Officiis
(PL 170.322), Sicard of Cremona (Mitrale (PL 213.396)), and especially
Guillaume Durandus (Rationale Divinorurn Officiorum, 6.127), using
the other scriptural texts of the proper of the Mass, explain the Samaritan’s
remedies in terms of the sacraments of baptism, penance, and the Eucharist.
It is in liturgical homilies rather than the poetry of the OE period
that one encounters the Samaritan parable and its traditional exegesis.
Two homilies (ed. R. Morris, EETS o.s. 29 and 34 (1868)) for Christmas
Day use the Samaritan parable in a discussion of the Incarnation and its
place in salvation history. Striking use of the parable and its biblical
and liturgical exegesis in ME occurs in Langland’s Piers Plowman where
Will, after meeting with Faith and Hope, encounters Charity in the person
of the Samaritan. Passus 17 of the B text employs the Samaritan episode
to sum up preceding developments in Will’s quest for firsthand knowledge
of Christ and salvation and to point the way to the poem’s climax in Passus
18. There, Christ “semblable to the Samaritan and somedel to Piers the
Plowman” jousts with Death in Langland’s depiction of the Passion and harrowing
Although Spenser makes no extended use of the parable in the Faerie
Queene, his wounded characters are generally treated in a manner sufficiently
resembling the Samaritan’s to lead critics to believe that he had Luke’s
text in mind (e.g. 1.5.17; 188.8.131.52; 3.28).
Fielding puts the parable to excellent satirical use in the twelfth
chapter of Joseph Andrews. The cries of Joseph, lying wounded and
bloody by the roadside, are heard by the passengers in a passing coach.
A lawyer, a “man of wit,” a haughty lady, and several other characters
are all anxious to pass by. When after much debate among the passengers
Joseph is rescued, it is because the passengers fear some legal action
if Joseph dies. A further debate follows about clothing the naked Joseph,
and it is a postillion, “a lad who hath been since transported for robbing
a hensroost,” who gives Joseph “his only garment, at the same time swearing
a great oath (for which he was rebuked by the passengers) that he would
rather ride in his shirt all his life than suffer a fellow-creature to
be in so miserable a condition.”
Brief sarcastic allusions to Samaritan-like behavior or lack of it in
certain characters are found in Byron’s Don Juan (5.955-58) and the “Age
of Bronze” (690-91), as well as Browning’s “Inn Album” (946-47). As is
indicated in the full title of Thackeray’s novel The Adventures of Philip
on His Way Through the World; Shewing Who Robbed Him, Who Helped Him, and
Who Passed Him By, the Samaritan parable acts as the novel’s framework
for the various trials of Philip Firmin and as a model to test the charity
and loyalty of those around him. In The Way of All Flesh (chap.
57), Samuel Butler describes Ernest Fontifex as having fallen “among a
gang of spiritual thieves,” and Ernest himself feels “as though if he was
to be saved, a good Samaritan must hurry up from somewhere — he knew not
Bibliography. Gerhardsson, B. The Good Samaritan —The Good Shepherd?
(1958); Manson, T. The Sayings of Jesus (1949), 259-63; Marshall,
I. H. The Gospel of Luke (1978), 440-50.