Christianity 201

October 16, 2020

Parable Reflects a First Century Hostility Between Two Religious Groups

Things have never been so divided and those divisions have cut through families and churches. Longtime friends have stopped speaking to each other. Examples of what is behind the divisions probably aren’t needed, but many are related to political views.

I would expect all readers here are familiar with the parable that we call The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33-34 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines.  There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. As I write this, news stories in my native Canada remind me that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype.  But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15-16 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51-53 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself.  After all she says,

NIV John 4:19-20 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you pick up milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be the family member or co-worker who doesn’t share your political perspective.  Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically…

Or your Samaritan might just be someone sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.