Posted by: mattcolvin | November 12, 2011

Luke 10:25-37, The Parable of the Good Samaritan


Monday of the 21st week after Trinity: Luke 10:25-37

10:25 – I always cringe a bit when English translators call Jesus’ questioner a “lawyer.” He is not a courtroom pleader, a barrister. He is a Torah expert (νομικός), and his question is designed to “test” Jesus. The verb is πειραζω, and in this context it means that he is trying to catch Jesus in an inconsistency or otherwise refute him publicly.

I have blogged before about how it is a twisting of this passage to see Jesus as anything other than sincere with the Torah expert, just as he was with the Rich Young Ruler who asked a similar question. He asks how he may inherit, not how he may earn. He is not a Pelagian.

10:28 – Jesus declares that the law-expert has answered “correctly” and repeats Leviticus 18:5’s promise: “do this, and you will live.” It is mystifying to me that anyone who reads James 2 could suppose that faith in God has been redefined in the New Testament so that we do not need to “do” anymore, but only to believe, or perhaps “rest and receive” (so that it becomes a crucial question whether our faith is sufficiently alone and inactive!). No, Jesus is completely sincere. Loyalty to God means obedience to His commandments, and faith without works is dead.

10:29 – The Torah-expert wants to “justify Himself.” That is, he wants to prove that by the Law as a standard of righteousness, he has fulfilled his duty and is a loyal follower of Israel’s God. He wants to claim this status by gerrymandering the term “neighbor.” This is a very rabbinic way of arguing. We must have precise definitions: Sundown is exactly at this moment; bread is “cooked” when the side nearest the fire is crusted over; grinding is defined just so; etc. But this is not how Christians are to use the Bible: what matters is loyalty to God, not the precise “works of the law” — especially when those works become an excuse for dishonoring God by despising His creatures.

10:30-36 – Note the repeated use of phrases that give away Jesus’ definition of “neighbor”: The priest “came down that road” and “saw him.” The Levite “arrived at the place” and “came and looked.” The Samaritan “came to where he was” and “saw him.”

The priest and Levite, being concerned to maintain their ritual purity, do not want to risk contact with a possibly dead person. Their cleanliness rules have become a way to escape contact with those who need help. (How many of us need to examine our own attitudes about dirt, smells, and social classes? And how easy it is to “come to where someone is” and pass by when we are insulated within the privacy of our own automobiles!)

10:27 – So far is Jesus from trying to stun the law-expert out of attempting to obey, that His parting words to the man are yet another exhortation to “go and do likewise.”


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