Thursday, March 22, 2012

6.4 Good Samaritan

One of the best illustrations of what Jesus meant when he said to love our enemies is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this familiar story, a man is mugged on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite pass by him without helping. Finally, a Samaritan stops and helps the man, giving him medical attention, taking him somewhere safe, and paying for his recovery.

Jesus tells this story in the context of the question, "Who is my neighbor?" The lawyer type is apparently thinking in the same vein as Matthew 5:43: love your neighbor and hate your enemy. So he is willing to love his friends but perhaps wanting to exclude his enemies from those toward which he must show love. He sounds like he wants to be clever.  "Ah, but who is my neighbor?"

Jesus' answer is topsy-turvy.  First, he does not tell a story about someone helping a Samaritan, although in effect Jesus' answer is that Samaritans are his neighbors. But the story honors the Samaritan as the one who actually fulfills what God expects. Meanwhile, those like the lawyer--the priest and Levite--do not.

Samaritans were of course hated by many Jews at the time.  They lived in the region between Galilee, where Jesus lived, and Judea, where Jerusalem was.  While Galilee in the north had largely turned to follow the religious approach of the south in Jerusalem, Samaria remained both politically and religiously distinct. Samaria had a long history of resisting the advancement of Judea, and they had their own version of the Jewish Law that did not see the temple in Jerusalem as the legitimate temple. They had their own temple much of the time. They also tended not to worship Yahweh exclusively but to mix worship of him with other gods in the world like Zeus.

So for Jesus to make the Samaritan the good guy would have been grating, to say the least. Any lawyer of this sort would surely have found it insulting. What's even more subversive is the situation that Jesus creates. A priest or Levite would surely have wanted to avoid the mugged man for purity reasons. He would have been bloody, and contact with blood of this sort would make a person unclean, and purity was a major concern for a priest, whether they had just finished their priestly duties or not.

Some try to soften the startling nature of what Jesus is saying here by pointing out that the priest and Levite were headed away from Jerusalem. If they were working in the temple, they were done for the day. It is hard to know how significant the direction of travel is in the story. It does not change the fact that Jesus did not put a Pharisee in the story as the one who avoids the mugged man. Jesus chose two people for whom purity was a concern because of the Old Testament laws.

In other words, this is another story like the one where Jesus gets into conflict with Pharisees over his disciples picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. It is another story where he implies that people trump rules for their own sake, in this case a priestly concern for purity. Loving our neighbor or enemy takes priority over lesser laws and concerns.

Once again, we find that Jesus leaves no excuse for hating our enemy. When we have a concrete opportunity to help others in need, we'd better have a very good reason not to do it. Jesus does not show himself to be an "absolutist" in these stories.  Quite the contrary! He regularly makes exceptions to the rules, even breaks the rules, when loving others is at stake.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Good Samaritan wouldn't be interested in whether a particular policy worked, he would only be concerned about whether a particular person got what was needed.

We have such a fractured society because of our various political commitments, but some of them have real practical implications. These run the gamut from

Affirmative Action

Planned Parenthood

Therefore, Christians shouldn't be interested or educated about the philosophical differences on policy, as it doesn't matter? Only "the human experience" matters....

Chriatians also should be concerned about abuses of power, or disregard for Constitutional limits, or any other matter, but the practical doesn't matter if you have Top Secret information that the enemy might desire to torture you for, and would put many, as well as your nation in harm's way; you are only to "do good" and allow such torture because of "Jesus' example".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Of course, the idea in modern terms is ludicrous in practical realities. Jesus was talking to tribal identifications, about the reasons they would not meet another human's need.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our Founders understood that making claims about religious identity would divide our nation, therefore, they decided to create room for liberty of conscience in the First Amendment. Government was not to establish a religion.

Today, we see how government has used religion for their ends, manipulating and controlling religious authorities and then, abandoning them, when these religous authorities do not submit to the State's conscience.

We saw this happening over the issue of Obamacare and the individual mandate, where no individual or institution will have any right to "conscience". The government will determine and solve every problem of mankind! Authoritarianism is abuse of power, which is unlimited. The "public arena" has expanded to invade the "private arena". No choice is a matter of "public good"!

It is no surprise that humans like to control others, and benefit themselves. This is human nature, but it was also why the Founders wanted limitation upon Government, NOT regulation upon the people! But, many argue that GREED is the problem. While there is no doubt that people will abuse systems, does punishing/regulating everyone because of a few "do justice". Or does it embolden government's growth? Why not admit self interest and "go from there" based on contractual negotiation, which is the rule of law!?? We won't have any right to negotiate as Congress will determine, if the individual mandate is approved. Then, none of us will really be "equal under law", as Congress (government) will be "more equal" than the rest of us!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

One wonders when there has been Planning and strategizing, whether those discriminated against (whose function is determined within a system) are pleased to have their lives so determined. Is that Christianity? OR is it Christianity to submit or is to resist government's power grabs over individual choice? It doesn't seem very respectful to "demand" and "co-erce". And it certainly isn't about the consent of the governed, because the Government hasn't considered, or been respectful of "the people's wishes" except to further their own ends of control.