More thoughts on the neighbor in the ditch


The Good Samaritan by Dinah Roe Kendall

As I continue to study the text (Good Samaritan parable) for this Sunday, N.T. Wright’s take (Jesus and the Victory of God) on it is as challenging as it is helpful.  He sees the parable as Jesus’ way of teaching the lawyer–and Israel–to take a completely new and different view of what it means to be and have a neighbor.  What the lawyer was really wanting to know was “where the covenant boundary-line had to be drawn.” Jesus pointed out who the real neighbor was,

The Jew in the ditch discovered that the Samaritan was his neighbor. And, by implication, he also discovered that the other two travelers on the road were not his neighbors–perhaps precisely because they were anxious to keep themselves in a state of ceremonial purity, as part of the complex workings of the sacrificial cult. (p.307)

So as the lawyer sought to justify how he defined neighbor and, thus, followed the law, Jesus, as Luke loves to highlight throughout his gospel, turns his understanding inside out. Or outside in. As Wright notes,

Outsiders were coming into the kingdom, and–at least by implication–insiders were being left out. More specifically, there was a way of being Israel which would be truly and radically faithful to the very centre of Torah, as summed up in the Shema. But this way, when pursued to the limits, would involve the redrawing of Israel’s boundaries, to include those normally reckoned beyond the pale. (p. 307)

Wright notes the enormity of the challenge this was for the lawyer as he thought he knew what he needed to do to inherit the age to come. What Jesus wanted him to understand was,

Loving Israel’s covenant god meaning loving him as creator of all, and discovering as neighbors whose who were beyond the borders of the chosen people. Those who followed Jesus in this way would be “justified”; that is, they would be vindicated when the covenant god acted climatically within history. “Go and do likewise.” (p.307)

“Go and do likewise” is hard enough when we hear this to mean that we should look out for our neighbors and help them when we see them in trouble. It’s even more difficult when we hear from Jesus that our definition of “neighbor” is too limited and is in need of radical expansion.  The “go and do likewise” just got expanded as well, as we now see that we have new neighbors for whom we will be held accountable.

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