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Summary: Year C Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 15th, 2001 Luke 10: 25-37 Title: “Rules in the service of relationships.”

Year C Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 15th, 2001 Luke 10: 25-37

Title: “Rules in the service of relationships.”

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question regarding the meaning of “neighbor” in the great commandment “Love your neighbor.”

THE LAWYER’S QUESTION (Verses twenty-five to twenty-eight)

The lawyer, as a Pharisee, believed in eternal life. One of the major differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, eternal life and angels. The Sadducees, more ideologically conservative, believed only in what was in the Torah, our first five books of the Bible. Since the Pharisees believed that their salvation, and hence eternal life, depended on their own efforts and power, it is not surprising that the lawyer frames his question “Teacher, what must I do,” in terms of “doing” and “obligation.” Jesus’ answer, which he makes the lawyer himself say, is not specific enough for the lawyer. So he asks another question about the meaning of “neighbor.” In answer Jesus gives an example rather than a distinction or definition.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN (Verses twenty-nine to thirty-seven)

This story is an example of compassion. It contrasts two members of the Jewish clergy who fail to show compassion with a Samaritan, a layman and non-Jew to boot, the most unlikely of people, who does. Thus the theoretical question, “Who is my neighbor?,” is answered by the practical example of one who showed compassion.

In verse twenty-five, to test him, the lawyer was not sincere in his question. He wanted to test, and, presumably, trap Jesus. No matter how often the Pharisees and the lawyer would be a member of this sect, tried to catch Jesus in an error, at least, what they considered to be an error, he would outsmart them. This occasion was no exception.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? The question would make sense to a Pharisee but not to Jesus. His whole preaching could be summed up in the two great Old Testament commandments of love of God and neighbor. While these, too, were obligations requiring obedience, Jesus would not conceive of them in terms of Pharisaic “doing” for the purpose of earning, achieving, deserving “eternal life.” Loving God and neighbor proceeds from one’s inner disposition motivating all one’s actions rather than external actions alone qualifying as measurable “works” to be put on one’s resume.

In verse twenty-six, what is written in the law?, unbeknownst to the lawyer Jesus is sort of setting his own trap to make the lawyer admit the truth of what Jesus has been teaching. Pharisees loved to quote from the law. They could not resist showing off their religious knowledge. At the same time, Jesus will show that his teaching is not opposed to the written law. On the contrary, it is the fulfillment of it.

In verse twenty-seven, you shall love the Lord, this command was regarded as at the very heart of Judaism. The concept, undivided loyalty to the God who was so faithful to them, was central to the covenant, especially as laid down in Deuteronomy.

With all your heart…soul…strength…mind, in Jewish thought these were aspects of the whole human person. Heart denotes the will. Soul or being denotes the vitality and consciousness of a person. Strength pertains to one’s instinctive drives and mind refers to one’s intellectual powers. Together they sum up the human person.

In verse twenty-none, he wished to justify himself, the lawyer now looked rather foolish having asked a question the answer to which he knew and was forced to give. Jesus said, in effect, “ Do this and you will live” in verse twenty-eight, that the lawyer had no need to ask his trumped up question. All he need do is put his answer into practice. The lawyer feigns confusion, a typical tactic when humans do not want to do something. He asks the theoretical question, “Who is my neighbor?” Most Jews interpreted “neighbor” in the second commandment to mean only one’s fellow Jews and, possibly, resident aliens. The Pharisees typically excluded even Jews who did not observe the law. The lawyer’s question reflects the debate about this issue in religious circles of the day. It amounted to the question, “Where do I draw the line?” Instead of answering theoretically, Jesus gives a practical example.

In verse thirty, Jerusalem to Jericho, in this eighteen-mile trip there was a drop in sea level from 2500 feet above to 770 feet below.

A man fell victim to robbers, it was a notoriously dangerous road. No one in his or her right mind would travel it alone. There were too many ambush places. Jericho was the country residence of at least half the priestly caste.

In verse thirty-one, a priest, the priests and Levites would be returning home from a period of duty in the Temple.

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