The Parables – The Good Samaritan, pt.2

Tonight we are reading through the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus tells this parable in response to a question by a lawyer. Jesus (or at least Luke) doesn’t seem to like lawyers. (Luke was a doctor so that may explain the animosity.) For example, only Luke records Jesus’ statements “Woe to you lawyers!. Luke 11:46, 52. In the parable, it is the lawyer who tests Jesus by posing the question of “Who is my neighbor.” Most people want to do the right thing, lawyers on the other hand tell their clients to do what the law book requires (if the law says to wear a yellow star if you’re Jewish, then wear a yellow star if you’re Jewish) and more specifically lawyers try to manipulate the law to allow the client to do what he wants. The lawyer here wants to parse the word “neighbor” just as Bill Clinton parsed the meaning of the word “is” or as this lawyer did the word “photocopier.” (NYT, 4/27/14)

In the lawyer’s defense, he is trying to understand how Jesus understands the commandment found in Leviticus 19:18 to love your neighbor as yourself. The prevailing understanding at the time was that “neighbor” only referred to fellow Jews. The entirety of the verse states “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:18.  Therefore, a straightforward grammatical reading of the verse is that the antecedent to the word “neighbor” is “sons of your own people”, i.e. Jews only.  Other rabbinic lawyers further restricted the meaning of “neighbor” to include only observant Jews (such as the priest and Levite in the parable). Whereas, other rabbis taught that “neighbor” included all of the decedents of Adam. A good overview of the different rabbinic schools of thought is HERE.  Jesus, of course, doesn’t engage the lawyer in parsing the grammar of Scripture, rather he simply tells the parable.

Also, notice within the reading how Jesus turns the lawyer’s question around at the end. The lawyer asks “Who is my neighbor?” – in other words, to whom must I show love?  Whereas, Jesus asks the lawyer “Who was the neighbor of the man?” – the observant Jews who passed on the other side of the road or the heretical Samaritan who helped him out. The good news in the reading is that the lawyer actually comes up with the right answer (proving that God’s grace extends even to lawyers) and that “neighbor” is not a national or religious designation but rightfully belongs to all those to whom we show mercy. In looking at the lawyer, think about those ways in which we restrict the “neighbor” to whom we are to show love and mercy to only certain categories of people. 

Dinner tonight is 6. The menu is chicken cacciatore. Hope to see you here. You don’t need to have read to come join us.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10.

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