Lexegete™ | Year C | St. Luke
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 11, 2010 (Lectionary 15)
Psalm 25:1-10 (4)
Psalm 82 (8)
Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, your mercy delights us, and the world longs for your loving care. Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. You shall love the lord your God with | all your heart,
and your neighbor | as yourself. Alleluia. (Luke 10:27)
Ed. Note: The exegetical writing below is based on the Three Year Lectionary followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Revised Common Lectionary as it appears in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006). This edition includes additional readings for a number of festivals and occasions, as well as the church year calendar and terminology from Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Two series of readings are provided for the Time after Pentecost. The Complementary series provides Old Testament readings and psalms chosen for their relationship to the gospels. The Semicontinuous series provides Old Testament readings and psalms that, while not as explicitly connected to the Gospels, explore many of the books and stories not covered by the complimentary series. Scripture references, unless noted, are based upon the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as found in MacBible (Zondervan, 1997).
1a. CONTEXT: Luke 10: 25-37
Luke-Acts was probably written about A.D. 85, after Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70, to Christian communities situated outside Palestine (possibly Syria) to make sense of the story of Jesus in light of his death and resurrection and to interpret the development of earliest Christianity.
The literary context reveals much about Luke's intention. 10: 25-37 is part of the Lukan journey segment (9: 51-19: 44) which pictures Jesus traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem. This major section begins with a rejection scene among the Samaritans (9: 51-56) and ends anticipating Jesus' rejection in Jerusalem (19: 41-44). Luke makes clear that Jesus has determined to go to Jerusalem to face suffering and death, and, as a result, every story in 9: 51-19:44 unfolds for the hearers in light of this destiny.
19:53 explicitly cites Jesus' intent to go to Jerusalem as the reason Samaritans rebuff him. Their rejection of Jesus reminds Lukan readers that Samaritans are different from Jews and despised by them. Jesus' exchange with James and John in 9: 54-55, however, avoids viewing Samaritans as enemies of God destined for divine judgment. Instead, as 10: 25-37 and 17: 11-19 reveal, Samaritans are cited as examples of persons who recognize what Jesus' own people miss.
1b. TEXT: Luke 10: 25-37
Lk. 10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Lk. 10:26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"
Lk. 10:27 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."
Lk. 10:28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
Lk. 10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Lk. 10:30 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.
Lk. 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
Lk. 10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Lk. 10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
Lk. 10:34 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.
Lk. 10:35 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.'
Lk. 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"
Lk. 10:37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
25Καὶ ἰδοὺ νομικός τις ἀνέστη ἐκπειράζων αὐτὸν λέγων, Διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσας ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω; 26ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τί γέγραπται; πῶς ἀναγινώσκεις; 27ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης [τῆς] καρδίας σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου, καὶ τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. 28εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Ὀρθῶς ἀπεκρίθης: τοῦτο ποίει καὶ ζήσῃ. 29ὁ δὲ θέλων δικαιῶσαι ἑαυτὸν εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Καὶ τίς ἐστίν μου πλησίον; 30ὑπολαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Ἄνθρωπός τις κατέβαινεν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ εἰς Ἰεριχὼ καὶ λῃσταῖς περιέπεσεν, οἳ καὶ ἐκδύσαντες αὐτὸν καὶ πληγὰς ἐπιθέντες ἀπῆλθον ἀφέντες ἡμιθανῆ. 31κατὰ συγκυρίαν δὲ ἱερεύς τις κατέβαινεν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ἀντιπαρῆλθεν: 32ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Λευίτης [γενόμενος] κατὰ τὸν τόπον ἐλθὼν καὶ ἰδὼν ἀντιπαρῆλθεν. 33Σαμαρίτης δέ τις ὁδεύων ἦλθεν κατ' αὐτὸν καὶ ἰδὼν ἐσπλαγχνίσθη, 34καὶ προσελθὼν κατέδησεν τὰ τραύματα αὐτοῦ ἐπιχέων ἔλαιον καὶ οἶνον, ἐπιβιβάσας δὲ αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὸ ἴδιον κτῆνος ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν εἰς πανδοχεῖον καὶ ἐπεμελήθη αὐτοῦ. 35καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν αὔριον ἐκβαλὼν ἔδωκεν δύο δηνάρια τῷ πανδοχεῖ καὶ εἶπεν, Ἐπιμελήθητι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὅ τι ἂν προσδαπανήσῃς ἐγὼ ἐν τῷ ἐπανέρχεσθαί με ἀποδώσω σοι. 36τίς τούτων τῶν τριῶν πλησίον δοκεῖ σοι γεγονέναι τοῦ ἐμπεσόντος εἰς τοὺς λῃστάς; 37ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ὁ ποιήσας τὸ ἔλεος μετ' αὐτοῦ. εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Πορεύου καὶ σὺ ποίει ὁμοίως.
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 10: 25-37
A simple outline shows that the opening and closing dialogues between Jesus and the lawyer (10: 25-29 and 10: 36-37) bracket the parable itself (10: 30-35). More precisely, Luke has incorporated the parable into a "controversy dialogue" which, according to Talbert (p. 120), repeats the following pattern: the lawyer's question, Jesus' counter question, the lawyer's answer, and Jesus' exhortation.
Lk. 10: 25-29 - At this point in the Lukan narrative, a lawyer unexpectedly pops up to ask a question about what kind of living is necessary as a member of God's people to inherit eternal life. This lawyer [nomikos] addresses Jesus as teacher, a rabbi with whom he can debate important issues. But the word [ekpeirazon] (10: 25) reveals the lawyer's initial question to be a hostile challenge rather than a genuine inquiry.
Jesus responds to the lawyer's question about eternal life by pointing him back to the Torah, the foundational Scriptures for the Jews. The exchange shows that inheriting eternal life is related to loving God and loving neighbor. In contrast to Mark 12: 28-34 where Jesus quotes the double commandment of love, here the lawyer recites Deut. 6: 5 and Lev. 19: 18. He recognizes the heart of theTorah, and Jesus commends him for this and then challenges him to put the double command of love into practice as a way of gaining "life."
In response, the lawyer poses yet another question, a self-justifying one which seeks to define his area of responsibility. For whom must he exercise love?
Lev. 19: 18 speaks of "neighbor" as fellow Israelite, and the Jews at Jesus' time tended to restrict use of the term "neighbor" to other Jews (Fitzmyer, pp. 880-881; Talbert,p.121). The lawyer's second question sets up Jesus' parable which shatters all attempts to limit "neighbor" to comfortable categories.
Lk. 10: 30-35 - Three observations about the story itself might be helpful: First, the story's concise yet vivid description of the robbers' attack on the traveler makes evident the victim's plight. "Half-dead" [heimithanei], the final word in the opening description, suggests the victim is unable to interact at all with his potential helpers. He is at their mercy, or lack of it. Moreover, "half-dead" provides a clue why both the priest and Levite passed by without touching the man. Contact with a dead body defiled a Jew, and those associated with the Temple (priest and Levite) were particularly careful about observing "clean-unclean" regulations (Lev. 21: 1-3, 10-11; see also Num. 19: 11-13). Though unnamed [anthropos tis], Jesus' original Jewish hearers would assume the "half-dead" person to be a Jew because of the story's location.
Secondly, the next segment of the story introduces the victim's possible saviors, using the typical pattern of three. First the priest and then the Levite see the victim and pass by on the other side of the road. This simple two-fold repetition prepares the hearers for the third. The hearers would probably anticipate some other Jew (a layperson) helping the man, but would be surprised that a despised Samaritan proved to be the helper ( to review the animosity between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' time, see Fitzmyer, COMMENT and NOTES on Lk. 9:52-54). Note this three-fold pattern in the Greek where "compassion" replaces avoidance:
Lk. 10:31 [kai idon auton antiparelthen] Lk. 10:32 [kai idon antiparelthen] Lk. 10:33 [kai idon esplagchnisthen]
(priest) (levite) (Samaritan)
"By coincidence" ( kata sygkyrian is brought forward in 10:31 for emphasis) all are confronted with a decision whether or not to go to the victim. Why the priest and Levite failed to help is not explicitly mentioned, though undoubtedly hearers could supply justifiable reasons. Clearly, however, it is the Samaritan who makes a difference for the victim.
Finally, it is worth noting that nearly 50% of the story (in Greek 50 of 106 words) details the assistance rendered by the "compassionate" Samaritan. The description underlines the thoroughness of his aid; his compassion (the Greek word suggests a feeling in his bowels) prompts him to invest his time, possessions (oil, wine, animal), money, and personal care for the sake of a stranger (enemy) in need.
Lk.10: 36-37 - Significantly, Jesus responds to the lawyer's question with a story, not an argument. The story changes the question. The lawyer's question in 10: 30 was self-serving, but Jesus' subsequent question in 10: 36 focuses on action for the sake of the one in need (no matter who it is).
In his final response, the lawyer does not choose to name the man as a "Samaritan"; rather he replies more generically "The one who did mercy for him" [ho poieisas to eleos met' autou]. Jesus' closing exhortation emphasizes "you" (the Greek su ) and urges the lawyer to identify with the compassionate Samaritan by acting similarly. This calls for breaking old stereotypes about Samaritans. Being "neighbor" is responding to anyone near (that is the literal meaning of pleision) who is in need. It involves acting with mercy even across ethnic and religious barriers.
3. STRATEGY: Luke 10: 25-37
(1) Remember the power of the parable is in its story form. In ministry (preaching, teaching, counseling, social concerns, etc.) stories and actual experience -- stories not yet told -- normally affect people more deeply than logical argumentation. In preaching, be sensitive to the way the hearers interact with stories. The above analysis attempts to assist you in focusing on the "rhetorical" effect of the parable for first century Jewish hearers. Memorize the text so that you can effectively "tell" Jesus' parable; this allows the text to become an oral event again.
(2) Luke, writing to Gentile as well as Jewish Christians, had to ponder how his Christian hearers would identify with the story. Similarly for contemporary interpreters, it makes a difference with which character in the story your listeners identify. For example, Bernard Brandon Scott offers a quite different interpretation of the parable by arguing that the historical Jesus designed the story to lead Jewish hearers to identify with the wounded Jew in th ditch, since it would be impossible for them to identify with a Samaritan, their enemy. In this case, the parable illuminates a perplexing dimension of God's grace: "to enter the Kingdom one must get into the ditch and be served by one's mortal enemy" (Scott, p.29). To be rescued by an enemy is deeply humbling and reflects a situation wherein one is helpless to save oneself.
(3) In any case, this story offers us no easy talk about being a "good Samaritan." For Jesus' Jewish hearers, who like James and John would call down judgment from heaven on Samaritans (9: 54), "good" and "Samaritan" seemed not to go together. This parable challenged their cherished stereotypes about enemies. Talbert writes, (This parable) "raises questions about one's caricatures of others and the norms used to identify the good and the bad" (p. 124).
This text leads us to reflect upon God's gracious activity in Jesus Christ which overcomes barriers between enemies. We cannot live comfortably with stereotypes and labels of others, deciding to help some but not others. The key is "compassion", evoked in the Samaritan by the plight of the victim. Surprisingly faced with the humanity and hurt of even our enemies, we can act in solidarity with them. Jesus himself epitomized this divine graciousness which refused to respect boundaries and categories erected to separate and divide people. The "mercy" one shows to any and all neighbors is inextricably tied to the "mercy" of God who offers us "eternal life."
Some would claim that the ultimate question today is "how do we discover God in our enemies?" This text helps us face that question squarely.
4. REFERENCES: Luke 10: 25-37
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE X-XXIV.
The Anchor Bible: Doubleday & Co., In., 1985, pp. 876-890.
Scott, Bernard Brandon. JESUS, SYMBOL FOR THE KINGDOM.
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981, pp. 23-32.
Talbert, Charles H. READING LUKE: A LITERARY AND THEOLOGICAL
COMMENTARY ON THE THIRD GOSPEL. Crossroad, 1982, pp. 111-113, 120-126.
Exegete: James L. Bailey, Ph.D.
Dr. Bailey is professor emeritus of New Testament at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. He is Director of the Center for Congregational Leadership (CCL) and the Lay School of Ministry (LSM). He taught both at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and Concordia College before coming to Wartburg in 1985. Jim and his wife Judy have two sons and five grandchildren.
Luke’s Story of a ”Splendid Samaritan“ goes, naturally, right to the heart of the matter of our human enmity for those who do not do for us as we wish them to. This opens large areas for exploration and especially in these post-9/11 years, it also raises the relationship between violence and forgiveness. This will be one of the topics addressed in January of 2008 at the Trinity Parish Institute in New York City.
This event was particularly significant in that it included in its faculty Prof. Tariq Ramadan. Prof. Ramadan is one of the most influential Muslim scholars writing today. In 2003 he was appointed the Luce Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame (IN), but was later disinvited, due to outside pressure.
(Something similar happened when he was scheduled to speak at the annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 2006.) It could reasonably be held that Americans are demonsatrably less secure because of actions like these by the powers that be in our government. For more information about the Trinity Institute, contact their website:
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