The Parables – The Good Samaritan, pt.1

This week we are reading through the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. I have attached both Bailey’s and Dmitri’s analysis of the parable. Both readings do a great job of setting the parable within the context of Jesus’ teaching. I have also attached Bailey’s general discussion on the nature and use of parables.

When I was in Sunday school, this parable was always presented as a teaching against hypocrisy and judging others with the three main characters being a preacher, a Sunday school teacher, and a biker gang member.  The first two good Christians failed to do their duty to help the injured man and the supposedly non-Christian did the correct thing. However, within the parable, the priest and the Levite aren’t disobeying the Scriptures rather they are upholding the very letter of the Scriptures in ignoring the half-dead man.  The parable forces us to think about why it was the man who did not know the Scriptures who did the right thing and brings out the central gospel teaching that we are not under the laws of Scripture.

In the Septuagint (the first five books of the Old Testament), there are 613 commandments in 34 different categories. (Here is a List). It is these laws that God says Israel must obey if they are to prosper or else they will become oppressed. One of the purposes of these laws is to maintain the holiness (separateness) and purity of Israel, particularly its priests.  The first two men to approach the near-dead victim were a priest and a Levite. The priests served in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Levites assisted them. These men would have known the Scriptures as the very words of God given to Moses. The Scriptures required that all Jews, but especially these men, be kept ritually clean.  For example, the Bible provides that whoever touches a dead body or a bone of man shall be unclean for seven days.  Num. 19:14.  For a priest or Levite, that means he is unable to carry out his temple duties. Lev. 22:4.  Therefore, when these men of God come upon the injured man, the very words of Scripture tell them to walk on the other side of the road.

On the other hand, the Samaritan was ceremonially unclean, a social outcast, and religiously heretic. The Bible says that when the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel (whose capital was the city of Samaria) in 722 B.C., they removed the Israelites and brought in other nations. The Assyrians allowed one priest to stay and teach the new inhabitants how to worship the Lord.  But these new inhabitants of Samaria “neither worshiped the Lord nor adhered to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob.” 2 Kings 17:24-41. But it is this man, unburdened by the written laws and commandments of Scripture, who is the hero of the parable and fulfills his duty.

One of the lessons within this parable is the gospel idea that we should obey the spirit of the Scriptures (love of God and love of man) and not the letter of the commandments.  The men who knew and obeyed the Scripture the best, failed to help, whereas the man who outside of the covenant people, did right.  In his ministry, Jesus does the same.  For example, he breaches the fourth commandment and plucks grain and heals on the Sabbath. Matthew 12. In the Galatian church, Paul faces a similar problem with certain members insisting upon strict obedience to the rules of Scripture, but Paul, echoes this parable in writing that “entire law (all 613 commandments) is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Gal. 5:14. Paul was adamant that obedience to the rules laid down in Scripture brought down a curse. Gal.3:10 For, as Paul will later write, the written code of Scripture brings death, but the spirit brings life. 2 Cor. 3:6.

As you read through this parable, think about when we, like the Levite, rely upon the written words of Scripture to avoid loving our neighbor as ourselves.  When do we see our brother broken and beaten in the ditch, and tell him that we would love to help but the rules say that he is un-pure and require that we move to the other side of the road? And, think about whether it is possible for modern-day Samaritans, those who do not worship the Lord nor obey the commands of Scripture, to fulfill the primary commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves better than those of us within the Church.

Dinner is at 6. Discussion about 6:45. And, you don’t have to read the attachments.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (Catechism, BCP 845)

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