Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 10:25-37, The Message or Luke 10:25-37, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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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 in front of a crowd; 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 and Rohrbaugh assume 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 on the list.
- (Because of concerns regarding ritual cleanliness,) Priests and Levites would avoid contact with a naked and 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 and Rohrbaugh 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.
- Alan Roxburgh (See footnote below.) makes an interesting observation, connecting this passage with last week's lesson of the sending out of the 70 (or 72), Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, and two weeks ago lesson of the disciples passing through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem, Luke 9:51-62: Having just been sent out, the 70 would identify with the traveller in the Parable who was attacked, beaten, and stripped. And having just experienced the animosity of the Samaritans, they would be astounded at Jesus' teaching.
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 pushing all other social customs, protocols, histories and hierarchies down to third place on our "what to do today" list of priorities. This includes religious ones - like being faithful church members! Yikes.
What would happen in our congregation if no one ever came to a meeting until after they had checked "Love God," "Love my neighbour," and "Love myself" off their to-do list?
Assuming - contrary to Malina and Rohrbaugh - that a person lying in the ditch is someone we could 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 a homeless person's care? Jesus can.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 270-271.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, 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.
Alan Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood, 2011, Ch. 10. (I'm reading this an iBook and can't give a paper page reference.)
Luke 10:25-37 (NRSV)
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 10:25-37 (The Message)
25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
26 He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
27 He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
28 "Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
30 Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. 31 Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. 32 Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33 "A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. 34 He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. 35 In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
36 "What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
37 "The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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