Being Shown Up

Pentecost 8 – 2013

Luke 10:25-37

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who challenges us to see beyond the surface to the deeper meaning beneath.  Amen. 

I have recently signed up to receive daily emails from the Centre for Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr whose books I have found both helpful and challenging. On Friday the meditation included the following quote from one of Richard’s books.

“Those at the edge of any system and those excluded from any system ironically and invariably hold the secret for the conversion and wholeness of that very group. They always hold the feared, rejected, and denied parts of the group’s soul. You see, therefore, why the church was meant to be that group that constantly went to the edges, to the “least of the brothers and sisters,” and even to the enemy. When any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God.”

In Luke’s gospel this point is made over and over again. It is the outsider in the form of the centurion who demonstrates sensitivity to Jewish culture norms by not allowing Jesus to enter his home (7:1f). The “woman of the city”, demonstrates true gratitude in comparison with  the self-righteousness Pharisee  (7:36ff).  In 8:19 Jesus redefines family as those who follow him. Jesus heals the Gentile demoniac and commissions him to teach the gospel (8:26f)l and a bleeding woman is commended for her faith (not censured for touching Jesus) (8:48).  Those on the outside, those excluded by Jewish society, are commended by Jesus, used by Jesus to reveal the hard-heartedness, ignorance and lack of faith of those who consider themselves to be on the inside.

It is in this context that the parable of the “Good Samaritan” must be understood. Centuries of domestication have made it difficult to recover the original intention of Jesus in telling this story. Far from being an example story, it is a direct attack on the exclusiveness of the Jews who label all non-Jews as immoral and lacking in human decency.

The parable is very carefully crafted.  As is often the case in oral story-telling, Jesus sets up a pattern which leads his listeners to draw their own conclusion before he shocks them with his surprise ending which challenges and critiques their stereotypes and preconceptions about those who do not belong.  The outsider, the marginalised, the despised Samaritan is the one who behaves in the way they think a “hero” should behave. They are challenged to re-think their attitudes to Samaritans and accept that they might not reach their own high standards.

There are four characters in the story, the first three of whom are Jews. Jesus’ telling of the parable, sets up an expectation that the fourth person, the “hero” will also be a Jew  – someone with whom the audience can identify, someone who will reaffirm their good opinion of themselves.

The setting of the tale – the road between Jerusalem to Jericho is notoriously dangerous. Jesus’ listeners are not at all surprised that the traveller falls among thieves. Neither are they surprised that the members of the priestly class fail to stop. Among the ordinary people of the day, anti-clerical sentiment was such that the callous actions of the priest and Levite would simply be taken for granted. That said, they believe that surely someone like themselves would stop and attend to the man. Using a pattern of words – coming, seeing, going past – Jesus builds a rhythm that not only gains the listeners’ attention and helps them to remember, but also leads them to think that they can complete the story (in the same way that children’s stories lend themselves to the child calling out the last line or identifying the “surprise”)[1].

However, in this instance, the story is not going in the direction expected. First of all, the established Jewish hierarchy – priest, Levite, Israelite (lay person) is broken. The last person in this trio is not even a Jew! Secondly, though Jesus’ language is similar, there are important differences which add to the effect.  Instead of coming, seeing, going, (like the priest and the Levite) the Samaritan comes, goes (up to) and sees.  The breaking of the pattern means that Jesus’ unexpected ending has maximum effect. His audience, having been lulled into a false sense of security that they know the ending, find that they are caught out, They presumed they knew where Jesus was going and they got it wrong.

The element of surprise means that the listeners cannot, escape Jesus’ meaning – the Samaritan, the one whom they despise – is the one who teaches them how to be a neighbour. The world of the listeners is thrown upside down – they are the chosen, they are the ones who have the law, they are the ones who occupy the moral high-ground – and yet it is their mortal enemy who shows compassion to the man left for dead. Jesus’ audience have to re-think both their opinion of themselves and their attitude to others. The “unloving Jews” are shown up by the “loving Samaritan”.

To those who are able to absorb what Jesus has said two things become evident – to remain in the story the Jewish listener has to become, not the hero, but the victim. Secondly, the listeners have to accept that the boundaries that people create to distinguish themselves do not hold. The mortal enemy can be the saviour. God can and does act in unexpected ways.

Every culture defines itself by its difference from others and by setting boundaries which reinforce those differences. Jesus’ point is that we should not allow those things which distinguish others from us be an excuse to denigrate and exclude them. Jesus’ inclusion of the marginalised and rejected, tells us something of God’s kingdom in which no one is unwelcome and all have something to offer and something to teach.

The openness of Jesus’ heart exposes the narrowness of our own. We need to understand that from the point of view of Jesus’ audience there was no such thing as a “Good” Samaritan and to ask ourselves who do we limit and confine, by our refusal to accept and understand and our unwillingness to welcome and to love.


[1]1. a certain man was going down

they-went-away

2. a certain priest was going down

on that way

and seeing

he-went-by-on-the other-side

3. a                Levite was going down

upon that place coming

and seeing

went-by-on-the other-side

4. a certain Samaritan

being-on-the-way

went up to him

and seeing

                                                                        had pity

Scott, Bernard, Brandon. Hear then this Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989, 193.

 

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