The priest and levite may have been conflicted by the demands of the book of Leviticus: 1) touching a dead body made one unclean (Lev. 21:1-2) and 2) the command to “love of neighbor” (Lev. 19:18) It was easy for the priest to pass by not wanting to become unclean, the same for the Levite. The people would have been expecting that the next person to pass by would be a Jewish layman. Here is the shocker, it’s a Samaritan. He would have known the law from the book of Leviticus about not touching a dead body. But seeing the person in need, the Samaritan moves into action. He defiles himself by touching what may be a corpse. He then pours oil and wine over his wounds and bandages them. He shows genuine mercy and compassion. All three saw the same scene, only the Samaritan sees in such a way that leads to doing mercy.
But the Samaritan’s care doesn’t stop there. He lifted the man on to his own animal and then took him to the inn. He stays with him, no doubt at some risk to himself and probably in a hostile environment. Inns at this time were dangerous places and innkeepers were a despised lot and considered dishonest and violent. He pays two normal days wages and enters a contract to pay for the other bills. This is an important part of the story because according to the law of the time a person with an unpaid debt could be enslaved until the debt was paid. We can learn much from this Samaritan. He doesn’t simply enter the world of the fallen person with care and compassion. He enters and leaves in such a way that the neighbor is given freedom along with the help that is offered. Notice the dynamics in the story: The Samaritan makes up for the priest by giving the man a ride; he makes up for the Levite, by binding the wounds; he makes up for the robbers: they rob, he pays for him; they leave him dying, he leaves him taken care of; they abandon him, he promises to return. The Samaritan makes up for the sins of neglect and the sins of violence.
We can look for meaning in this parable from the different people.
St. Augustine proposed this parable as an example to us of God’s love for us: Jesus is the Samaritan and we are the wounded person.St Luke says, “A man” was going down. We don’t know who he is. It could be any of us, any human being laid low by violence, sickness, misfortune, or despair.
Many of the people of Jesus time would have identified with the man victimized by the robbers and left for dead. It is from this “view from the ditch,” that the parable invites us to see a hated enemy as the merciful face of God. The parable advances that for some it is only possible to accept this message after having reached the depths of need, having been stripped of all of one’s own resources. We can receive the graciousness of God from those least expected, from the outcast. It often comes amid powerlessness.