Luke 10:25-37, to me, has always been a parable about a person who crossed cultural divides to serve and love another. My understanding of the parable of the “Good Samaritan” prior to this week was focused on my call as a Christian to serve others in need and not walk past them; plan and simple. This week, however, I am left with additional points of focus. Through Short Stories__1 I have been lead to explore the effect the parable would have on me if I identified with the victim instead of the Samaritan.
Within the first few pages of Short Stories I had already begun to gain a new perspective to this parable. If the original hearers of Jesus' parable would have easily identified with the victim2 how would my understanding be changed if I took the same stance? As the victim I would have to accept – as much as a half-dead person can “accept” – assistance from someone I would have been culturally conditioned to distrust and dislike. From this perspective, this parable is so much more than slaying cultural preconceptions and accepting everyone as my neighbor. This parable is not only about the Samaritan “white knight” coming in to save the day, but also about the injured and weak victim of robbery allowing himself to be brought even lower by accepting the aid of an enemy.
When I ponder this parable from the perspective of the robbery victim, I cannot help but hear echoes of the so-called “Christ Hymn” of Phil 2:6-11. As Jesus is to have emptied and humbled himself in his act of extreme neighborliness on the cross, so too has the robbery victim been brought to further humiliation by accepting assistance from a Samaritan. Naturally, this simile cannot be taken too far – the victim does not save the Samaritan, etc. – but, the similarities are still there.
Both the victim and the Samaritan have expanded their definition of neighbor in this parable. The victim chooses to be neighborly by allowing the Samaritan to care for his wounds and bring him to safety. The Samaritan by doing compassion and being merciful to a person in need, has increased his neighborhood to include a half-dead stranger. Both Samaritan and victim in this parable have demonstrated what Jesus thinks the lawyer – and all good Jews in his original audience – should, “go and do.“3
As Snodgrass notes4, why must Christians – especially Protestants – be so uncomfortable with a parable with simple ethics and morals rather than a grand eschatology or deep theological statements?5 Why must this parable to turned to focus on the priest and the Levite? The expected third, Israel, I think symbolically lays half-dead on the ground and is given the choice of expanding the neighborhood to include Samaritans or the refusing assistance an “enemy” wishes to give. Jesus' ethics in this parable are soundly Jewish – love God and love your neighbor – and thoroughly unique to him6 – be vulnerable and expand your neighborhood to include even your enemies, not just when you come to them, but also when they come to you.
Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2014).
Short Stories, pg. 87
Luke 10:37 RSV
Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2008)., pg. 351
Thought there are deep theological statements that can be made about becoming low to be made whole again in the ever-expanding neighborhood of God.
Short Stories, pg. 86