Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Good Samaritan: Asking the wrong question

The parable of the Good Samaritan - as preached by most pastors - has always bothered me. Most of us know how the story goes: an expert in the law stands up to challenge Jesus, and comes up with the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself." He then asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus then tells the story of a traveller who is mugged and left for dead on the road. Two religious authorities walk by but do nothing to help the man. Then a Samaritan (a hated group for the Jews) comes upon the man, helps him, treats his wounds, and takes him to an inn where he pays for the victim to stay until he is healed. Jesus then asks "Who was this man's neighbor?" The expert replies "The one who had mercy on him" (i.e. the Samaritan). Jesus replies "Go and do likewise."

Most teachers say that the moral of the story is "Be a good neighbor." But if you look at a plain reading of the text, it says something different. "Love your neighbor as yourself" - "Who is my neighbor?" - "The one who has mercy on him." What is the logical conclusion of these three statements? "Love the one who has mercy on you." Not quite what your sunday school teacher taught, right? A very wordly way of looking at things - do good to those who do good to you!

But I had missed the last statement "Go and do likewise." (Thanks to Mark Driscoll whose sermon - on another topic entirely - triggered this line of thinking.) If you look at the whole, Jesus is really saying to the expert, "You're asking the wrong question." The expert asked "Who is my neighbor?" - i.e. "Who do I *HAVE* to love?" Jesus wants him to ask "Who do I *GET* to love?" The answer then is "Whoever you see in need. Whoever you are, wherever you're going." The former question reduces the Law to a prescription. The latter question opens it up as guide to living. The former is a checklist, the latter is a lifestyle. The former is the minimum, the latter is the maximum.

I thought this might be interesting to other Mod-Bloggers out there. Maybe I am the only one who hadn't "gotten" this previously - sometimes my logical nature gets in its own way. But I suspect this may be of use to others, as well.


"Nick" said...

I think it's also important to remember that the victim was a Jew, and the Samaritans and Jews didn't get along.

So another point, which Jesus makes elsewhere as well, is that we not only *GET* to love others, we *GET* to love those who don't love and even hate us, which is the way God loves us as humans.

Good thoughts:)

quizwedge said...

Interesting... I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks.

BH said...

Funny how the Bible is new and interesting every time we read it no matter how learned you are.

Ron said...

Who is my neighbor is of course the wrong question, whereas the right one is "who am I a neighbor to?"

The moral of the story is BE THE NEIGHBOR.

shadowmom1 said...

Wow. We have more responsibility to recognize the needs and to meet them. Surely puts me to shame. (I know, it should be an incentive to right living, not an avenue to more shame.)