Special Sub-Topic: The Good Samaritan
|Let us start with the basics: where can one find the tale of the Good Samaritan?
Luke 10:25-37. Like the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke follows the timeline put forward by the Gospel of Mark. Since these three gospels share such a similar narrative structure, they are often called the "synoptic" gospels. This is in contrast to the Gospel of John, which is not considered synoptic and probably did not use Mark as a guide. Furthermore, both Matthew and Luke share a number of stories that are not contained in Mark, suggesting that they drew upon a second source of Jesus' sayings, which many Bible scholars (particularly those in University settings who work in the original languages) call "Q" from the German word for "source". The parable of the Good Samaritan is not found in Matthew, however, nor is it found in the non-Biblical Gospel of Thomas which is also thought to have used Q as a source. Thus, the compiler of Luke may have had a source for Jesus' teachings that was unique.
For details on this theory of Luke's composition, see Raymond E. Brown, "Introduction to the New Testament" (1997).
|The parable of the Good Samaritan is prefaced by an unnamed interrogator seeking to test Jesus' teachings on how to receive eternal life. What is this person's vocation?|
Lawyer. The same question, without the explaining parable, is asked by a scribe in Mark 12:28. According to scholar William Baird, this difference in interrogator is due to the different audiences addressed by Mark and Luke. Luke, according to Baird, was much more geared to Greek-speaking gentiles who knew little of scribes (but, living under the highly-developed Roman judicial system, much of lawyers) and were more interested in eternal life than the inner workings of Jewish wisdom.
|According to this passage, one gains eternal life by loving "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 neighbor as yourself". What clarifying question (which prompts Jesus' parable) does the interrogator then ask?|
And who is my neighbor?. In the parallel episode of Mark 12:28-31, the scribe does not ask this question; he merely agrees with Jesus, prompting the response: "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
This summary of the law, by the way, probably derives from Rabbi Hillel the Elder, a Jewish thinker of the generation before Jesus and founder of the leading Rabbinical school in the Holy Land during Jesus' time. For more information on Hillel, see http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=730&letter=H#1945
|The parable itself begins with a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. What happens to this man?|
He is stripped by robbers, badly beaten, and left to die.. During the Middle Ages, this hypothetical mugging was often compared to Adam and Eve's fall from grace. In Chartres Cathedral, for example, there is an eleventh-century stained-glass window featuring Adam and Eve on top, paralleled by the Good Samaritan on the bottom. Early Church theologian Origen took this analogy a step further, calling Jerusalem the allegorical paradise and Jericho the allegorical Earth.
|The victim in "The Good Samaritan" is passed by someone that the hearer of the story would expect to help. What is the occupation of the first person to see the victim and not render aid?|
Priest. A standard interpretation of this passage is that the priest did not want to ritually defile himself by touching what would have appeared to be a dead body. Though Jesus did castigate those whom he felt adhered too closely to the letter of the law rather than to its spirit (as in Luke 11:37-54), the hypothetical priest's motivation is not explicit in the text of "The Good Samaritan".
|The victim in "The Good Samaritan" is passed by another person, again someone who might be expected to help. How does Jesus identify the second person who fails to render aid?|
He is a Levite. According to the Torah (specifically, Numbers 1:48-54), Levites were in charge of taking care of the tabernacle and ministering to the priests. As such, many also attribute this Levite's reluctance to his desire to maintain ritual purity. Again, however, this is not explicit in the text, and it is also plausible that Jesus is merely using the Levite as an example of someone whom the hearer would expect to obey the great commandment, but in fact does not view the victim as a neighbor.
|The turning point in the story comes in verse 33, when "a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity." According to scholar William Baird (and almost any other serious student of Bible history), why would this be surprising to Jesus' original audience?|
The Samaritans were rejected by most Jews of the period on both ethnic and religious grounds. Though the Samaritans based their religious practice on the Jewish Torah and claimed to be descended from Jewish tribes, they worshiped in a different temple (the Temple of Gerizim) and followed markedly different practices. This is underscored in Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in the fourth chapter of John. As is often the case between similar but schismatic groups, there was deep antipathy between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' time; with a remaining population of about 700, the Samaritans are almost extinct today.
|What did the Samaritan do for the victim in the story?|
He did all of these (Treated his wounds with oil and wine, then bandaged him, Transported him to safe haven, Paid for a local innkeeper to take care of him). The sum the Samaritan paid for the victim's treatment, two denarii, was the rough equivalent of two days' hard labor at the time. Though this sum is hardly nominal in itself, Jesus ascribes even more generosity to the Samaritan, having him tell the innkeeper: "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend."
|At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus asks his interrogator: "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man?" According to Luke, did the interrogator respond: "The Samaritan?"|
n. Rather, perhaps disgusted by having to acknowledge even hypothetical moral high ground to a Samaritan, the lawyer replied: "The one who showed him mercy." Along these lines, though, this may also be read as very clear construction by the compiler of Luke: Jesus' message is not that Samaritans are morally superior (at least according to any Biblical exegesis I know of). Instead, it is the behavior of this individual that makes him an example, not his identity.
|What is Jesus' concluding comment to his interrogator in this parable (NRSV)?|
"Go and do likewise.". To paraphrase Baird, this conclusion effectively inverts the lawyer's original question. Rather than classifying any group of people as the lawyer's neighbors, Jesus puts the onus on the lawyer himself and adds an active dimension to Hillel's classic admonition. Loving one's neighbor as oneself takes on great breadth in Jesus' thought: anyone you encounter, even if conditions would dictate you find them despicable, is someone you should treat as a neighbor.
"You are not far from the kingdom of heaven" is what Jesus tells the scribe in Mark 12:31 when the scribe agrees with Jesus on the proper interpretation of law. "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live" is Jesus' initial answer to the lawyer in this passage (Luke 10:28). There is no record of Jesus saying "Well, I guess that settles that!" - at least not in any English translation of which I am aware.
As always, I'd love to hear any comments you might have, especially those that will make this a better quiz. Thanks for playing.
Did you find these entries particularly interesting, or do you have comments / corrections to make? Let the author know!
Send the author a thank you or
Submit a correction