There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:25-37]
Jesus praises the summary of the Law given by the scribe (this summary is an amalgam of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). But by telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Christ extends horizons that had been narrowed by legalistic attitudes and interpretations. “The concept of ‘neighbor’ [prior to this] was understood as referring essentially to one’s countrymen and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of ‘neighbor’ is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now” (Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 15).
By mentioning the priest and the Levite, our Lord may have sought to define the limits of legal prescriptions. The victim may well have appeared to have been dead; and according to the Mosaic Law (cf. Lev 21:1-4, 10-11; Num 19:11-22), a person who touched a dead body became unclean. Through this parable Jesus shows (and the scribe sees this, too) that adherence to legal precepts should never prevent one from showing compassion.
The reader can also see that Jesus is the incarnation of divine mercy and acts in the same merciful way as his Father (cf. 15:1-32 and notes). Therefore, it is not surprising that from very early on this parable was interpreted as an allegory. St Augustine (who comments on it in a number of places), followed by other Fathers, sees the good Samaritan as standing for our Lord, and the man fallen among robbers as Adam, the origin and symbol of fallen mankind: “Our God wanted to be our neighbor, and Jesus Christ our Lord presented the good Samaritan as a symbol of himself: he came to the aid of a man struck down by thieves at the side of the road and left only half alive” (De doctrina christiana, 1, 33). Moreover, the man left on the roadside is healed of his wounds in the Church: “My soul, where are you, where are you laid while you are cured of your wounds and pains by the one who has made reparation for your sins? You are in the same inn to which the good Samaritan brought the man that he had found lying at the side of the road, beaten by a band of thieves and left only half alive” (idem, De Trinitate, 15, 27, 50)