For freedom, Christ has set us free

Sunday 15C19
Gospel Commentary
for smart phones and tablets

14 July 2019


Gospel
Luke 10:25   Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 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 neighbour as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:29   But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 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. 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Initial observations

The first part of this story is found in Mark 12:28-31 (a scribe, with a positive view of the scribe) and in Matthew 22:34-40 (without the positive note about the lawyer). There are other differences. In Mark and Matthew, the question is “which is the greatest commandment?” This question is typical of rabbinic discussion, trying to summarise the heart of the Torah. In Luke, however, it becomes an existential question about how to live so as to attain eternal life. The “parable of the good Samaritan” which follows is found only in Luke, framed by v. 28 (do this, and you will live) and v.37b (Go and do likewise). The frames continue the editing policy of the first scene in favour of the practical rather than the speculative. The reader may notice that the question set by the lawyer (who is my neighbour?) is turned around by the parable (how can I be neighbour?).


Kind of writing
The first scene is a chreia, a conversation with a punch line. The story following is a parable. However, like some of the more “teachy” parables in Luke, it lacks any element of destabilising paradox more typical of the authentic parables of Jesus and instead “traps” the hearer into affirming the blindingly obvious. One may hear a rueful tone in the repetition of v.28b in v.37b.

The parables unique to Luke are: Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-43); Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37); Importunate Friend (Luke 11:5-8) Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21); Barren Fig-tree (Luke 13:6-9); Lost Piece of Silver (Luke 15:8-10); Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32); Unrighteous Manager (Luke 16:1-9); Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8); Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)

Old Testament background

The first citation is taken from the Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel), taken from Deuteronomy 6 and prayed three times a day by observant Jews. The second citation is from Leviticus (the full citation gives a good idea of its force).

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

New Testament foreground

Samaritans are not that frequent in the NT (Matt 10:5; Luke 9:52; 10:33; 17:16; John 4:9, 39–40; 8:48; Acts 8:25). However, as the statistics show, the two-volume Luke-Acts does give them a significant profile. Perhaps the most well-known example is taken from the story of the ten lepers. It underlines Luke’s special interest in the inclusivity of the gospel proclamation. Samaritans were regarded with particular animosity as religious “half-breeds,” neither Jews nor Gentiles.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15–18)

St Paul
In several places, Paul summarises his teaching with the teaching of love as the fulfilment of the Law.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Brief commentary

Verse 25 Luke takes the story from Mark 12 and moves it forward in time. “Lawyers” (actually religious teachers / theologians) appear a few times in Luke, usually negatively (Luke 7:30; 10:25; 11:45–46, 52; 14:3). The only other use of this particular word for test is found in the temptations (Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” [Luke 4:12]). This makes these scene rather negative at the outset. “Eternal life” (Luke 10:25; 18:18, 30; Acts 13:48) is also the question of “a certain ruler” in Luke’s version of the young man who presents himself to Jesus.
Verse 26 The initial response is to turn the question back to the questioner. The scribe gives a perfectly good account of himself, repeating (later) Christian doctrine.
Verse 27 In Mark and Matthew, it is Jesus who cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The note about the summary of the Law (Mk 12:31 and Mt 22:40) is omitted in Luke because this was not the presenting issue in his Gospel.
Verse 28 In Mark, the scribe compliments Jesus, a positive reaction typically missing in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus compliments the scribe. “Rightly” is found almost only in Luke (Mark 7:35; Luke 7:43; 10:28; 20:21) and in related contexts of teaching and controversy.
Verse 29 Perhaps because he was asked an easy question (everyone knew the Shema) and was unable to display his expertise, the scribe starts up again. Justifying yourself is condemned sharply: So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15) Who is my neighbour has become a very contemporary question in all sorts of ways for us today.
Verse 30 The story (it is really less of a parable) is quickly told to get to the main point. The “man” lacks any qualifier of race, nationality or religion.
Verse 31 Contact with a corpse made one ritually unclean and perhaps the priest is shown putting purity above compassion. Notice that the priest is not as strictly obligated to purity because he is going down from his time of service.
Verse 32 The Levite seems to examine the wounded man more closely!
Verse 33 It is typical of Luke that outsiders and disreputable people illustrate the gospel more closely than the pious!Samaritans were really old-fashioned Israelites and being similar but not the same were all the more excoriated. Compassion is a very special word in the NT. It is use mainly of Jesus himself (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Luke 7:13). Otherwise, it occurs only twice more, both times in Lucan parables (Luke 10:33; 15:20).
Verse 34 This is a very detailed description of extravagant care. The Samaritan begins with “first aid”, so to speak, and then puts in place long-term arrangements. Notice the twelve verbs: saw, was moved, went, bandaged, poured, put, brought, took care, took, gave and said.
Verse 35 A denarius was a day’s wages at the time. Undertaking any further expense is still an arresting image of generosity.
Verse 36 The question, of course, is a no-brainer and there is no escaping the obvious response.
Verse 37 The lawyer, rather sheepishly, gives the answer anticipated. “Mercy” is a theme which occurs mostly in the Luke 1-2 (Luke 1:50, 54, 58, 72, 78; 10:37), showing that it is a Lucan theme of considerable importance. Jesus then repeats his instruction from v. 28. The reply of Jesus and the narrative have in effect reversed the question of the lawyer. He wanted to know who was his neighbour (that he should love). Instead, he is advised on how he himself can be neighbour to those in need, on the example of a low status neighbour, the Samaritan.

Pointers for prayer

1. Today’s gospel brings us right to the heart of what a Christian life involves: love of God and of neighbour. Jesus tells us that having life both now and in the future is the fruit of living in a spirit of love. How have you experienced the power of love given and received to be a source of life and vitality?
2. With media today we are brought face to face with suffering, poverty and hunger so vast that it can engender a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. What the parable challenges us about is how we react when we come face to face with a person in need. We may sometimes try to avoid getting involved. Recall when you overcame this reaction and reached out to help. What did that do for you, and for the other person?
3. Bring to mind the people who have been an inspiration to you by the care and attention they have given to others.

Prayer

In Christ you draw near to us, God of mercy and compassion, lifting us out of death, binding up our wounds, and nursing our spirits back to health. Let such a tenderness as yours compel us to go and do likewise. Grant this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thought for the day

The question raised in today’s Gospel is never out of date or out of season. It is perfectly natural to think of our neighbours as literally the people next-door, people “like us” as we say. But, that is to stay well within our comfort zone and, as Jesus puts it sharply elsewhere, “even the Gentiles love those who love them.” Far more is demanded, especially in today’s context of spiralling migration, with all its challenges of finance, housing, income, education of the young, work for the able and so forth. While bearing in mind the practical and social consequences, the whole thrust of the Gospel passage is to see my neighbour as any fellow human being in need.

Prayer

Generous God, as we rejoice in your kindness towards us, help us to imitate your love for all without distinction.