A lawyer, i.e., a highbrow professor of the Torah, asks Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (10:25).
Jesus fires back with a question of his own, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" (10:26). It's a fair question. The guy is after
all a professor of law.
The highbrow cites Deuteronomy
6:5, that you're supposed to give your all in loving God, as well as
Leviticus 19:18, the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus gives him an A+: "do this, and you will live" (10:28).
But the lawyer is greedy for extra credit. He wants to look good and solidify his status as a highbrow professor committed to justice. So he asks, "And who is my neighbor?" (10:29).
In response Jesus launches into a lengthy story.
There's this guy who's traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when thieves suddenly attack him. They strip off his clothes, beat the heck out of
him, and abandon him half dead on the road.
A priest traveling from Jerusalem happens to come that way, but when he sees the bludgeoned chap, he passes him by on the other side of the road.
Next, a Jew from the tribe of Levi does the very same thing.
Come on, guys.
Finally, a Samaritan arrives by that route and when he sees the poor guy, he's moved to compassion.
Don't forget, the tensions between Jews and Samaritans were not insignificant at the time of Jesus. Samaritans followed their own brand of Judaism,
which was distinctive above all in their acceptance of Mt. Gerizim in
Samaria as their sacred center rather than Jerusalem. Bottom line:
Samaritans are supposedly the bad guys.
This is not the first time Samaritans have cropped up in the story. Rewind to 9:52-55 for more.
Back to the story: The Samaritan dresses the victim's wounds, sanitizes them with oil and wine, slings him over his mule, and finds for him a place
The next day, the Samaritan pays the proprietor two day's wages with instructions to look after him and guarantees further pay when he gets back.
Jesus pops the big question for the lawyer to answer. Which of the three—priest, Levite, or Samaritan—plays the part of neighbor?
The answer is obvious, even to the lawyer. It's the one who acts with pity.
Jesus tells him to follow the example of the (as we now know him) Good Samaritan.