The Curmudgeon


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Luke 10 xxv-xxxvii

A lawyer requests Jesus to define the prerequisites for attaining eternal life. Jesus asks him to recite the law, which is that one must love God with all one's heart, soul, strength and mind, and love oneself and one's neighbour with the leftovers. When the lawyer asks Jesus to define his neighbour, Jesus tells a parable of a man who is set upon by bandits, stripped and left for dead. A priest and a Levite pass the victim by; but a Samaritan, a member of a group despised by the Jews, goes to some trouble and expense in order to help. Jesus asks the lawyer who was the man's neighbour; the lawyer says, "The one who showed him mercy" and Jesus tells him to do likewise.

The parable was doubtless inspired by the incident (recounted at II Chronicles viii-xv) in which prisoners from Judah were saved and helped thanks to a prophet in Samaria. In the parable, the marauding armies of impious Israel are substituted with cowardly and hypocritical members of the priestly caste, whose reluctance to accept the Saviour's fundamentalist teachings earned them His enduring resentment and constant invective. One disreputable source interprets the parable as a promotion of the ascetic life; but this flippant reading is less than convincing. Although Jesus professed indifference to material comforts, He certainly did not object to them; what He disliked was not being pampered, but being doubted. In light of His willingness to be ministered from the substance of wealthy women, and His obsessive denunciations of the priests and scribes, it is reasonable to assume that His respect for ascetic values was comfortably outweighed by His hatred for His rivals.

Hence, the parable is anything but a paean to compassion without borders. Since the Saviour's contempt for "the heathen" is as consistent and well-documented as His lust for Judgement Day, it seems most unlikely that the legalistic put-down "Go and do likewise" was primarily intended as an exhortation to be nicer to people from Samaria. Rather, Jesus' intention is to turn the Jews' loathing for the Samaritans against His own enemies among the learned and literate, by implying that even a despised foreigner would make a worthier neighbour than they.


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