Lawyers and Samaritans
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
36 And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” 37The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”
This Sunday’s gospel is one if not the most known and cited parables in the Bible, the Good Samaritan. Contained in this famous parable are the realities of human best and worst characters not to mention human’s preoccupations. But most importantly the story tells us what should be our relationship with other people whether they are in need or not. These are portrayed and implied by the actors in the story. By its popularity retelling the story here is unnecessary and redundant. However, for the purpose of emphasis let me summarize important points of the story as seen from the actuations of the personalities in the parable.
The parable was told by Jesus to answer the question of a lawyer (teacher of the law), “What must I do to receive eternal life?” For sure at that time and even this time this question predominates our faith based quest. Seeing the context of this question, the lawyer felt outclassed because Jesus told his disciples, “How fortunate you are to see the things you see! v24I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not.” This may have been uttered in private but I surmised that Jesus’ intimate relationship with his disciples has put the lawyers in a second class treatment of which they were not used to at that time. So one of them asked the question inorder to trap Jesus. But to their surprise the table was overturned and they found themselves on the defensive position when Jesus told them the parable of the Good Samaritan.
After the rhetorical exchanges between Jesus and the lawyer, the lawyer confessing his knowledge of the law in the Scriptures tried to wriggle himself out of the entanglement asked the penultimate tricky question in order to justify himself, “Who is my neighbour?” This led Jesus telling the parable. And the rest we know with our conclusion who the true neighbour is based from the very practical details of the story as told by Jesus himself. And this brings to my mind what Scott Hoezee wrote, “Jesus is saying not only that when it comes right down to it, everyone in the whole world is your neighbor. He is saying that, too. But if, as Eugene Peterson says, parables are narrative time bombs designed to explode people into new awareness, then in this case one of the pieces of shrapnel is designed to tear into the idea that the law will ever save anybody. Jesus is exposing the futility of the law as a way to inherit eternal life. After all, the Samaritan who finally reached out did so not as a result of law but of grace. The finer points of the law left the man half-dead in the ditch. It leaves us all there. Grace is what lifts the man out. Grace is what lifts all of us out. If God had not been gracious with us, we’d all still be dead.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan arises out of a discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee. Here is a religious lawyer and he is asking a question on the nature of the law. The stage is set by Luke with these words: “Behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test.” Well, it’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last time that a lawyer phrased a trick question. It was the kind of question in which any kind of an answer would pose still further problems. It was a test question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Now right away we know that this man was a Pharisee, because the Pharisees believed in eternal life and the Sadducees did not. Jesus could tell that this man was an astute student of the law so he asked him: “What is written?” In other words, use your own mind to discern the essence of the law. Jesus, like a good discussion leader, throws the question right back in his lap.
The lawyer had a good answer. He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This was a direct quote from Deuteronomy 6. It was part of the Shema, a confession regularly made in Jewish worship. Jesus says: “Excellent. You are correct.” If he were a teacher I suppose he would have said: “You get an A+.” I have no complaint with this says Jesus. Do this and you shall live. You have not only penetrated to the essence of the law but you have worded it succinctly.
The question had been asked and the answer given. You would think that the man would be pleased and go home. But lawyers are never happy. A lawyer’s responsibility is to define the limits of liability. “But he, desiring to justify himself, asked ‘Who is my neighbor.’” In other words, where does my responsibility stop? Who exactly am I responsible for?”
At this point, instead of further defining the question, Jesus tells a story. A way of indirect teaching.
It’s difficult to look at something as well known as the story of the Good Samaritan with fresh eyes, but it’s the parts of the Bible that have been the most used through the centuries that have been the most abused. Often, the message has been distorted through all the years of preachers and Sunday school teachers twisting and turning the stories to fit their own agendas. In the case of parable of the Good Samaritan, years of use have turned a shocking, profound statement of the Christian life into trite moralizing. But one thing about the story that has not changed through the centuries since it was told. It is about human relationship. It is about caring of those who are in need even if they are strangers. That is the gist of Christ’s teaching. That is the gem about being a Christian, follower of Christ. And this reminds me of what columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “Be kind to people. The world needs kindness so much. You never know what sort of battles other people are fighting. Often just a soft word or a warm compliment can be immensely supportive. You can do a great deal of good by just being considerate, by extending a little friendship, going out of your way to do just one nice thing, or saying one good word.” Being civil to one another is the least we can do. Every major religion or philosophy acknowledges that.
“You go, then, and do the same.”
Let us pray.
O Lord, you mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.**