"Having created the impossible-possibility of a despised no-body doing what is needed to inherit eternal life, ... presents a double challenge. First. To be able to see someone we despise as being able to do what God desires. Second. To imagine ourselves lying left-for-dead in a ditch and being aided by such a one."
Season of Pentecost
Sunday Between July 10 to July 16 Inclusive
Proper 10, Ordinary Time 15
July 11, 2010, Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Click here, Luke 10:25-37, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this note.
This lesson shows us Jesus' great skill as a debater and story-teller.
Verses 25 to 29 are the debate; Verses 30 to 37 are the great story.
Verses 25 to 29. At the time of Jesus, the honourable way for an elite person to put a lower-class upstart back into their proper place was to verbally challenge them; and cause them to lose face by making public the upstart's lack of real knowledge and true wisdom.
So when the lawyer stands up to test Jesus by asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life;" this is not an honest question. It is a hostile question intended to expose Jesus' lack of knowledge about the answer that is already given in Scripture and tradition.
However. Because Jesus is acting with the authority given him from God - it would be DIShonourable for him to directly answer such a question. To do so would draw attention to himself; would be shameful boasting. He would be seen as trying to claim personal honour / merit, and a higher status based on his own authority.
We see this in the pattern:
- Verse 25. Lawyer's question to Jesus.
- Verse 26. Jesus' question to lawyer.
- Verse 27. Lawyer's answer to Jesus' question.
In attempting to demonstrate his knowledge of the Scripture by quoting it in response to Jesus' question, the lawyer has already begun to lose this debate, because in replying this way he has taken Jesus as an equal worthy of a proper response. In other words, he has begun to grant Jesus the public recognition he started out trying to undermine!
- Verse 28. Jesus praises the lawyer, "You're right! (Good boy!)"
This is something only a superior would do: a teacher to a student for example. Jesus drives the point home simply by now seeming to take the original question at face value, "What must I do to inherit eternal life," and counselling the lawyer to do what he already knew was the answer! (The irony of this would not be lost on the witnessing crowd.)
- Verse 29. Lawyer's second question.
Desperately seeking to salvage his reputation, the lawyer then throws Jesus such an easy pitch that Jesus drives it outta the park for a home run.
- (Jesus gives no details about the man "going down from Jerusalem to Jericho," but for the story to "work," we must assume he was travelling for socially acceptable reasons: a funeral, a wedding, or some other ritual observance. Otherwise, his travel was socially deviant and suspicious. Malina assumes his travel is suspicious; I assume it is for acceptable - though unstated - reasons.)
- In the Torah "map" of people, priests and Levites head the list. Samaritans are not even included.
- (Because of concerns regarding ritual cleanliness,) Priests and Levites would avoid contact with a naked and therefore presumably dead body. (This reality should not be passed over too lightly. Touching the body would require a lengthy process for becoming able to function as priests and Levites again - a significant cost to them and the institutions they serve. And. Truth be told, ALWAYS stopping to help everyone in need, and NEVER being the one to "pass by on the other side of the road" is a sure-fire recipe for burn-out.)
- A Samaritan travelling back and forth in Judean territory may have been a trader, a despised occupation. This is suggested by the fact that he possesses oil, wine, and considerable funds.
- Many traders were wealthy, having grown rich at the expense of others. They were therefore considered thieves.
- They frequented inns that were notoriously dirty and dangerous and run by persons whose public status was below even that of traders.
- Both the victim (I beg to differ with Malina on this point) and the Samaritan were thus despised persons who would not have elicited initial sympathy from Jesus' peasant hearers.
- That sympathy would have gone to the bandits. They were frequently peasants who had lost their land to the elite lenders whom all peasants feared.
- The surprising twist in the story is thus the compassionate action of one stereotyped as a scurrilous thief.
Verse 36. Having created the impossible-possibility of a despised no-body doing what is needed to inherit eternal life, Jesus now responds - as usual - to the lawyer's question with a question.
Verse 37. And while the crowd watches, the lawyer must concede the unwelcome truth of Jesus' story. To which, Jesus again replies, "Go, and do it."
Linking the love of God with one's whole self to the love of one's neighbour as oneself has the uncomfortable effect of overriding all other social customs, protocols, histories and hierarchies.
Assuming - contrary to Malina - that person lying in the ditch is someone we would identify with presents a double challenge.
First. To be able to see someone we despise as being able to do what God desires.
Second. To imagine ourselves lying left-for-dead in a ditch and being aided by such a one.
We may be troubled by the prospect of helping out a homeless person. Can we imagine ourselves being in need of that persons care? Jesus can.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
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