Amos 7:7-17 – Amos’ call to prophesy. He prophesies against Israel and Jereboam.
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 – God will make you prosper if you obey. The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Psalm 82 – Defend the poor and the orphan. Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!
Psalm 25:1-10 – Teach me your paths O Lord. Remember not the sins of my youth!

Colossians 1:1-14 – Paul and Timothy write to the church at Colossae, commending them for their faith, and their love, made known to them by Epaphras. They pray that the church there may bear fruit in every good work and be prepared to endure what may come with patience.

Luke 10:25-37 – The parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus: “Go and do likewise.”

The Good Samaritan

Bishop Mike with Dr. Mikeal Parsons, Truett Theological Seminary

I was going to focus on the first lesson from the Hebrew Bible, but events in Orlando and the conversations around them, combined with my furtive conversation with Luke scholar Mikeal Parsons at Baylor last week, have left me captivated with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.

Wherever people are divided by race, ethnicity, and religion, the story is incredibly applicable, so basically everywhere, but especially here and now.

SamariaSamaria was located between Galilee, the home of Jesus to the north, and Judea, the home of the Jerusalem Temple to the south. Samaritan society was racially and religiously intermixed. Jews had intermarried with indigenous folks, and also those who had immigrated from surrounding nations. They were a more racially diverse society.

Along with these other cultures came their religions. Although the Samaritans were monotheistic adherents to the law, pagan idols and temples existed alongside traditional Jewish monotheistic religion. Samaritans allowed the name of Yahweh to be pronounced and differed in other ways from the Jews. Their religious observance was considered contaminated. They were to be avoided at all costs. They were shunned and looked down upon, which is what gives the story of the Good Samaritan its edge. Without some understanding of the Jewish relationship to Samaritans, it will be hard for our congregants to hear this as more than an injunction to help people on the road (which it is, but so much more).

Later, in Acts 8:14-17, Luke recounts the ministry to the Samaritans. This happens between the ministry to the Jews in Acts 1-7 and the ministry to the Gentiles that follows.

Last week we heard the sending of the seventy (or seventy-two). After a short soliloquy in which Jesus give thanks that God has hidden “these things” from the wise and revealed them to little children (shades of the Magnificat), Jesus is approached by a lawyer asking about eternal life.

Parson's BookSpoiler alert: Luke 10 and 11, from this point, are about love of God and neighbor. This is not just in the points made, but also built into the structure of the text. Parsons (Luke, Paideia series) points out the chiastic (A-B-B-A) structure:

A – On loving neighbors (parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:29–37)—example, Samaritan as Christ figure
B – On loving the Lord (Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38–42); example, Mary
B′ – On loving the Lord (the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:1–4); example, Jesus
A′ – On loving neighbors/friends (the parable of the friend at midnight, Luke 11:5–13); example, friend seeking bread

Fortunately, we read all of these in the RCL:

July 3: Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan)
July 10:  10:38-42 (Mary and Martha)
July 17: 11:1-13 (Lord’s Prayer and Friend at Midnight)

A “lawyer” (νομικός) stood up to test Jesus. This kind of debate, which I will discuss in a minute, is perfectly normal. “Lawyer” refers to one who is learned in the Mosaic law, not a lawyer in the modern-day sense. It would not be uncommon for two observant Jews to debate the application of some matter of the law.

The lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer doesn’t ask, “What must I do to get into heaven when I die?” though this is what most of our folks will hear. Obviously, there is an afterlife component to eternal life, but eternal life begins now. It breaks into this world as well, like the reign of God.

In typical rabbinical fashion, Jesus answers the question with a question. He will do the same after the parable: “Which of these was a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” Jesus invites the lawyer answer his own question. Not only is this a rabbinic way of teaching, it is also Socratic, something Luke would likely have known about. The Socratic method used friendly debate, asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking. When someone thinks through a matter and arrives at a conclusion, they are more likely to remember it. In our society we often see debate as hostile, rather than as a dialectical way to ferret out truth. We want everyone to agree or at least pretend to agree. This puts us in danger of engaging in superficial community. We also feel uncomfortable leaving the questions open and feel there must be a right and wrong; orthodox and heretical answer to everything, rather than a recognition of mystery, and the humility of a knowledge that is incomplete, only made perfect in love.

Parsons names this a rhetorical device. The lawyer takes the bait and quotes the Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:5, and then Leviticus 19:18. Matthew 22 is the parallel here; however, Matthew has Jesus answering the question himself. The Good Samaritan story is unique to Luke. I often marvel at what we would miss without Luke’s gospel: Zaccheus, The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, the Nunc Dimittis, the Magnificat…

Jesus acknowledges that this is a good answer. Love God. Love neighbor. That’s it. Go do it.

“But wanting to justify himself…” Dr. Parsons suggested to me last week that of the canonical evangelists, Luke has the best handle on Paul’s theology. He was referencing Luke’s stuff about Paul in Acts, but we see bits of it here.

For those familiar with it, here is the Greek:

ὁ δὲ θέλων δικαιῶσαι ἑαυτὸν εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, kαὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; 

δικαιόω means “to render righteous.” This reflects back to Abraham “being reckoned righteous” in Genesis, for believing God’s promise. There is a clear theology of justification by grace through faith here. The lawyer isn’t thinking about being reckoned righteous by trusting God. He is thinking about justifying his current bias.

The word ἑαυτὸν means “self.” The lawyer wants to make himself righteous or more colloquially, “justify himself.” In what way? The answer is in his question. “But who is my neighbor?”

In the Greek:

Καὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; 

Καὶ can mean “and,” “but” and other things. It’s fun to play with the tone of the question:

And who is my neighbor?
But who is my neighbor?
So who is my neighbor?
Then who is my neighbor?

I like “but.” Perhaps the lawyer is trying to draw a circle encompassing those neighbors whom he must love with those he need not love – those outside the circle. Remember, this is the Jesus who has called his followers to love even their enemies, just four chapters ago (Luke 6:27, 35).

Today’s listeners may ask the same questions. Who am I called to love? Am I called to love immigrants? Am I called to love those with whom I disagree? Must I worship with them? Am I called to love ISIS? What does that mean? How do we pray for our enemies? For their conversion from hatred and hostility? For their well-being?

Who is my neighbor? Does Leviticus mean the persons who live in the houses on my right and left or the whole neighborhood? Or those in my neighborhood who share my faith or ethnic identity? Does Leviticus mean I must love my fellow Jew, or does it go beyond that?

Jesus could give a pat answer if he wanted to, but then it would devolve to a matter of opinion. Jesus does not just want to lecture the lawyer. He wants to convert, convince, inspire, and transform.

A tangent about preaching: Do we preach for information? Inspiration? Transformation? Do we believe that if people have the right information everything will work out? Do we assume with the right information they will do the right thing? Do we assume that we as preachers have all the right information and they don’t? What information do we have? What information do they have that we need? How do we move beyond information to inspiration? How do we move beyond inspiration to transformational preaching? How are we inviting people to respond to the message? As my seminary preaching professor Paul Harms used to write at the bottom of our embryonic sermons: “So what?”

Back to the text. Jesus could answer the question. He could respond with another question. He will, eventually. But first he employs another rabbinic technique: He tells a story.

“Once upon a time…” Our minds are wired for stories. Stories convey multiple layers of truth that cannot be conveyed through didactic statements, laws, rules, and doctrines. The brain craves stories.

“Every culture bathes their children in stories to explain how the world works and to engage and educate their emotions. Perhaps story patterns could be considered another higher layer of language. A sort of meta-grammar shaped by and shaping conventions of character types, plots, and social-rule dilemmas prevalent in our culture.” [How the human brain became hardwired to tell stories]

See also:

What listening to a story does to our brains
Why telling a story is the most powerful way to activate our brains

I think I would be a better preacher if I used stories and questions more. Lead people to the obvious conclusion for themselves. Recognize that platitudes don’t stick, but stories do. The Good Samaritan is a great example. What good stories with surprise endings can you tell that invite us to see the strange other as our neighbor?

You know the story. I won’t belabor it. Should the priest obey the law against corpse defilement or help the neighbor? Which law should prevail? Jesus seems to think everyone knows the answer. If your donkey falls in a ditch on the Sabbath, you know what you would do. The answer is obvious. Compassion is at the heart of the law.

The one who renders aid is the Samaritan, who is despised by the lawyer. Jesus’ question is the ultimate in inductive teaching. “You tell me: Who is the neighbor in this story?” The lawyer is forced to admit the Samaritan is his neighbor. I like to imagine he had trouble even responding. Whispering at first. “Um, the, uh, Sam…” Jesus, “Sorry. Didn’t get that. What did you say? A little louder. Who is your neighbor?”

Parsons points out that many scholars dismiss a christological reading of this story: C. A. Evans 1990, 178, states flatly: “The Samaritan is not Jesus.” But Lutherans know Luther interpreted everything christologically, sometimes to a fault, bending some Old Testament texts away from their original meaning. Of course Paul did this too, with his allegorical interpretations (e.g. Sarah and Hagar). Parsons points out that Luke uses “he felt compassion” only three times, and the other two are for God-figures (like the father in the Prodigal Son). Parsons is not so quick to dismiss a christological interpretation. But the beauty of it, is the text may be understood on many different levels. The story can have meaning when you are 12 and when you are 80.

Augustine didn’t shy from allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan either. In Quaestiones Evangeliorum II:19, he said “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” is the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden. The man is Adam, according to Augustine. Jericho signifies our mortality. The thieves are the devil and his angels. They stripped and beat him, meaning, they enticed him to fall into sin. The priest and Levite could not produce salvation by the law. The Samaritan is Christ. The oil is hope. The wine is the Spirit. The beast is Christ’s incarnate flesh. The inn is the church. The next day is the resurrection. The two coins are the commands to love God and neighbor. The innkeeper is Paul. And so on. You’ve got to love Augustine.

At the end of the story, after the lawyer admits the Samaritan is the neighbor of the story, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” This makes it seem like a morality play. At one level it is, but we know there are always many levels to a story. What does “do likewise” mean? Help the stranded? Yes. Love across racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries? Yes. Recognize the neighbor in the other? Yes. Jesus answers the “so what?” Now, go and live it.

Here’s a furtive question to leave everyone squirming a little bit: First century Palestinian Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. With whom do you have no dealings? [The Word in Life Study Bible, New Testament Edition, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville; 1993), pp. 340-341]

Oh, and keep in mind, Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village in the previous chapter, which we read two weeks ago. Could you make a hero out of those who rejected you?