The 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
posted 09 July 2019
Luke presents us with a brilliant example of a story within a story. The narrative tells of a lawyer trying to test Jesus. As a typical Jew, Jesus answers a question with a question and then explains a concept by means of a parable – the story within. The lawyer is made to answer his own question and both he and Jesus display their knowledge of the law. The lawyer, however, wants to place himself above Jesus so that Jesus is shown to be the ‘fool’. Still, as Amy-Jill Levine says: “Had the lawyer been smart, he would have left at this point” (Levine, 144). What he had hoped for himself and for Jesus by his next question backfired and he was left with “egg on his face”!
“And who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the parable of three different types of human response to a very needy Jew who had been robbed, beaten and left nearly dead. Nicholas King notes that all good stories have three people in them with the third holding the key to the answer. We often come across stories about the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman. In Jesus’ story the first two are the ‘clergy/religious leaders’ and the audience would have experienced ‘glee’ at their neglectful behavior and then expected the third man to be an ordinary lay Jew (an Israelite). Instead, the one who held the key to Jesus’ message was a Samaritan – the hated nation sometimes referred to as ‘dogs’.
Amy-Jill Levine shows that in this parable that the priest and Levite were not going to the Temple, since they are described as heading “down the road.” The way to Jerusalem was “up”! She also critiques the Christian interpretation of the behaviour of the ‘clergy’ which suggests that they were following a law regarding being made unclean by touching a corpse. The man was still alive and there must have been signs of that as he lay in the gutter – he was not ritually unclean!
The listeners to the parable would have expected the priest and the Levite to show compassion – to be the neighbor to a fellow-Jew. They would never have expected a Samaritan to be compassionate towards a Jew in distress! In fact the parable is full of surprises: at the clergy not following the second part of the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord…and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27 – quoting Dt 6:5 and Lev 19:18), and surprise at the Samaritan putting that commandment into action.
Who, according to the parable and Jesus’ life is my neighbor? Levine suggests that a better understanding of the parable should be that we see the image of God in every single human being, adding that we should: “Go and do likewise.” Imagine yourself lying in the ditch and think of the person who would be the one you ‘hate’ so much that you would rather die than be rescued by her or him. According to Jesus that is the person who should come and help you!
For Reflection and Discussion:  How would you retell this story in the ‘language’ of your culture so that the message that God’s image is in all people would shock the listeners?  Have you a person or group of persons you would ’rather let die’ than give assistance to? How do you need to convert and hear Jesus’ words: “Go and do likewise”?
Bibliography: Nicholas King, The New Testament, (Great Britain: 2004); Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, (San Francisco: 2006).
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