Aug 31 – The Good Samaritan: more than a morality tale

The parable of the Good Samaritan is more than a morality tale.  Loving your neighbor means that you treat all other people fairly, respectfully, and kindly.   But you don’t get crucified for telling stories about being nice, so we have to look deeper.  And the story is sharper:  Which of the three men turned out to be the neighbor to the Jew in the ditch?  Here’s another way to put it, “Which person in the story counts as the ‘neighbor’ whom the Law commands us to love as yourself?”

The answer is obvious; but in Jesus day, the answer was revolutionary.  After all there were two very big competing stories going on here. Shortly before Jesus was born, Virgil had just published the Aeneid, which provided the mythical back-story for the origin of the Roman World.  Rome is founded by the refugees of fallen Troy.  Virgil is said to have recited Books 2, 4 and 6 to Augustus (Octavian) who is the emperor when Jesus is born.  Octavian took the title, Divi Filius (Son of God). At the time of Jesus the Pax Romana is ascending and Rome self-consciously believes itself to be a messianic state.  Naturally, the Jews have another story.  Their story pre-dates Rome, Troy and Greece, and doesn’t include Romans, Trojans or Greeks. It doesn’t even include Samaritans.  It goes without saying that it doesn’t expect or include what George Bush calls ‘Muricans.

To put it in modern terms, there would have been wall to wall coverage on Zionist TV.  You could hear Chris Matthews or Piers Morgan saying, “These are not neighbors; their enemies.  If this non-violent demonstrator Jesus believes otherwise, he’s a total enemy of the Jewish state, and quite possibly an existential threat.”

The Jew in the ditch discovered that the Samaritan was his neighbor. And the other two were not. Remember the original question:  Who would inherit the age to come? Who will have a stake in the kingdom?  Jesus is saying that outsiders are coming in; insiders are going out.  All the boundaries his audience thought were clear and fixed were being redrawn by Jesus.

The parable of the Good Samaritan therefore is a story that Jesus used to call Israel back to its original story, that in Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed.

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