July and Jesus’ Parables: The Good Samaritan

Opening Prayer

Teacher Jesus,

Thank you for this time together.

We gather so we may learn from you,

so that we may practice what you teach.

Help us to hear your words, and hear each other.

Lead us to put your words into action.  AMEN

How do we approach a parable?

  1. HISTORICALLY: What is behind a parable?  How does it fit into the teaching of Jesus and later into the teaching of the early church?
  2. LITERARY: How is the story put together?  Where does it focus our attention?  How does it compare to other stories in Jesus’ time?
  3. AESTHETICALLY: How do we respond to it personally?  Does it evoke conversion in me?

The Good Samaritan  (Luke 10:  25 – 37)

  1. HISTORICAL
  • The lawyer: In the Mediterranean world questions are rarely perceived as requests for information.  The hope is that the person who is asked a question will not know the answer and be shamed by ignorance.  Jesus responds in a consistent way-insulting his questioner!
  • The victim: Since the man is stripped and left half-dead, his ethnicity cannot be identified.  Helping him carries a risk.
  • The priest: If the victim is dead or non-Judean, the priest would be defiled by touching him and have to return to Jerusalem for purification  (Leviticus 21:1-3).
  • The Levite: He may have seen the priest’s reaction and so didn’t want to insult by stopping.  And Sirach 50:  25-26 calls Samaritans degenerates, so perhaps he thinks he’s doing what he’s supposed to do.
  • The Samaritan: Generations of hatred have been built between the Jews and Samaritans.  He is an unlikely character for the story, for the lawyer would have thought the choices would be priest, Levite or Judean lay person.  What do I do with a hated enemy?  The Samaritan takes great risk that the victim may hate him upon wakening; the oil and wine he uses may be considered unclean.  Or if the victim dies, his family may come looking for him  (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, p. 109-111).
  • Consider Luke’s audience too. This is a Christian community that has people from lots of different backgrounds.  They may have lots of questions about who a neighbor is too.
  1. LITERARY

The story is designed to provoke anxiety over whether or not the man will be rescued.  But the long-standing hostility between the two groups might still make it difficult to imagine being aided by a Samaritan.  The reversal in this story’s plot really takes place because of that identification with the victim.  It leaves us with many questions, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 120).

Luke’s writing often features doublets, two passages that match each other and clarify each other.  See verse 28 and 37.  Both are versions of, “Go and do likewise,” (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 118).  They highlight that Jesus wants us to hear what he says and then do it.

  1. AESTHETICALLY

Personal cost and personal risk belong right in the story Jesus told.  The good Samaritan’s kindness cost him some oil, wine, clothing and money – as well as the loss of time caused by the unforeseen break in his journey.  The bandits could still be around too, so there is the possibility of danger (p.119).  It begs us to consider at what cost are we willing to help?  Are we willing to break down divisions to help our neighbor too?

Who is Jesus in this story?  He is hospitable like the innkeeper, saving others at all costs like the Samaritan and a victim in how he was left to die on a cross (p. 121).

Israel has been anticipating a messiah.  In fact, favor and expectation were at a fever pitch around the time of Christ.  Due to the political and economic difficulties of the times, the messiah became an expectation of their own fashioning.  The awaited messiah had been reduced to hopes for a victorious warrior who would crush their enemies.  Luke’s Jesus shattered this illusion.  Jesus was not that kind of messiah.  Destruction of Israel’s enemies was not part of Jesus’ plan.  In listening to this parable, hearers are forced to ask:  If the old structures are no longer adequate, then, who is in and who is out?  Who is first in God’s reign?  Who is my neighbor?  All are equal before the eyes of God.  All are deserving of the same love that God gives to all people  (Birmingham, Word & Worship-Cycle C, p. 424).

Some questions to reflect upon…

Is this a criticism against the clerical? 

What do you think the victim did when he got well enough to realize what had happened?  Did he leave and go on his way to Jericho?  Did he wait until the Samaritan returned in order to thank him?  What did he tell his friends?  Did the incident have any effect on his views of Samaritans later?

What can be said of the innkeeper?  He trusts the Samaritan and follows his request despite being a hated outsider

What Good Samaritan stories do you have to share?

Closing Prayer.

O God,

To love you is our destiny and life itself.

Open our hearts to all who need our concern and help.

Help us to minister to those who do not belong to ‘our’ group,

And make us always compassionate

to the wounded and suffering.  AMEN

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