This coming Sunday our gospel is the well known story called the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In yesterday’s post we see the “Good Samaritan” coming to the aid of the beaten man who was left for dead on the roadside. In this parable, why would Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the “hero” of the story? Brian Stoffregen has interesting insights into this answer:
If Jesus were just trying to communicate that we should do acts of mercy to the needy, he could have talked about the first man and the second man who passed by and the third one who stopped and cared for the half-dead man in the ditch. Knowing that they were a priest, Levite, and Samaritan is not necessary.
If Jesus were also making a gibe against clerics, we would expect the third man to be a layman — an ordinary Jew — in contrast to the professional clergy. It is likely that Jewish hearers would have anticipated the hero to be an ordinary Jew.
If Jesus were illustrating the need to love our enemies, then the man in the ditch would have been a Samaritan who is cared for by a loving Israelite.
One answer to the question: “Why a Samaritan?” is that we Christians might be able to learn about showing mercy from people who don’t profess Christ. Stoffregen comments, “I know that I saw much more love expressed towards each by the clients at an inpatient alcoholic/drug rehab hospital than I usually find in churches. Can we learn about ‘acting Christianly’ from AA or the Hell’s Angels?”
Green (The Gospel of Luke, 431) comments:
“The parable of the compassionate Samaritan thus undermines the determination of status in the community of God’s people on the basis of ascription [Green had noted earlier that priests and Levites are born into those positions], substituting in its place a concern with performance, the granting of status on the basis of one’s actions.”
This approach highlights some of the Luke’s themes: Since the man in the ditch had been stripped of anything that might identify him by social class, or perhaps even nationality; he is helped simply because he is a person in need. There should be no distinctions about whom we are to help. In addition, the help involved the use of one’s resources. For Luke, wealth is not necessarily evil, it depends upon how it is used.
The Man in the Ditch. Scott (Jesus, Symbol-Maker for the Kingdom, 29) summarizes the parable as follows: “The parable can be summarized as follows: to enter the kingdom one must get into the ditch and be served by one’s mortal enemy.” He expands a little later: “Grace comes to those who cannot resist, who have no other alternative than to accept it. To enter the parable’s World, to get into the ditch, is to be so low that grace is the only alternative. The point may be so simple as this: only he who needs grace can receive grace” (31).
Funk (Parables and Presence, 33) adds to this image.
A Jew who was excessively proud of his blood line and a chauvinist about his tradition would not permit a Samaritan to touch him, much less minister to him. In going from Galilee to Judea, he would cross and recross the Jordan to avoid going through Samaria. The parable therefore forces upon its hearers the question: who among you will permit himself or herself to be served by a Samaritan? In a general way it can be replied that that only those who have nothing to lose by so doing can afford to do so. But note that the victim in the ditch is given only a passive role in the story. Permission to be served by the Samaritan is thus inability to resist. Put differently, all who are truly victims, truly disinherited, have no choice but to give themselves up to mercy. The despised half-breed has become the instrument of grace: as listeners, the Jews choke on the irony.
He concludes his comments on this parable quite succinctly (34) :
… the parable of the Good Samaritan may be reduced to two propositions:
- In the Kingdom of God mercy comes only to those who have no right to expect it and who cannot resist it when it comes.
- Mercy always comes from the quarter from which one does not and cannot expect it.
An enterprising theologian might attempt to reduce these two sentences to one: In the kingdom mercy is always a surprise.