Lecture 6: Samaritans
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There was great animosity between the Jews and Samaritans that went back hundreds of years. In telling the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus was not only challenging stereotypes but shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew. It’s unacceptable to use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people.
I. Woman at the well
A. Background of the Samaritans
B. Response of the disciples
C. Interchange between Jesus and the woman
D. History of Jacob's well
II. Parable of the "good Samaritan"
B. The parable
Course: New Testament Introduction
This story you really will not get the pith of it unless you understand the historical context. So, what we've got to back up and do this morning is talk about who the Samaritans were, and why was there so much antipathy between Samaritans and Judean, or Galilean, Jews that the evangelist feels compelled at the beginning of the story to say, "The won't even share a drink of water."
Now, you need to understand what a fundamental violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality that is. In the ancient Near East you were supposed to show hospitality even to your enemies. Remember Psalm 23?
"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
Hospitality was one of the most important ancient Near Eastern values that all of these cultures shared; a welcoming of strangers. The Greek word is "xenophilia" as opposed to "xenophobia”. "Xenophilia" means the love of strangers. That is actually the word that is translated "hospitality" in the New Testament. Xenophilia - the love of strangers. That's the word that over and over again is rendered as hospitality.
While I'm on this "-philia" thing, Philadelphia - this is not the City of Brotherly Love. That would be "Philadelphos". We need to know your Greek endings better. Philadelphia is considered the city of sisterly love.
Not the city of brotherly love.
Xenophilia - our author says that Samaritans and Jews hate each other so much that they will not even share a basic cup of water with one another, and this is animosity times 10. This is like the animosity between the Edomites and the Israels. You remember the Imprecatory Psalm that says, in the Psalm, "Blessed are those who dashed the heads of the Edomite infants on the rocks." Do you remember that? You know, that's not a Psalm I urge you to pray every night before you go to bed.
This hatred between Samaritans and Jews was as visceral as Palestinians and Jews today; just as visceral, just as deadly, just as violent. It had a long history. As far as most Jews were concerned, they only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan. Again, the phrase, good Samaritan would be an oxymoron in that culture; a contradiction in terms.
So we need to back up and learn our history as to why that is so. We're going to go all the way back to the division of the northern and the southern kingdoms, which happened in the 900s B.C. It happened after the time of Solomon and it happened on the watch of the king of all Israel.
It's a horrible story. The land was partitioned into two parts: Israel and Judea. But that's not all because as you know, in 722 B.C., the Assyrians came calling in the northern part of the land. There was this Assyrian ruler named Ashurbanipal, who said I shall wash my swords in the Mediterranean. And he swept right across the ancient Near East, right across the northern part of the Holy Land right to the coast. Suddenly, what had become Israel, the northern tribes, was occupied territory by the Assyrians. This is 722 B.C..
Now the Judeans, far from coming to the rescue of the Israelites, all stood at the edge of the border and said, (musically) "Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey he-ye, goodbye," as they marched off into exile.
What actually happened in 722 B.C.? Well occupation and deportation. Not deportation of everybody, just the elite. Just the rulers and the wealthy. I mean, the usual kind of pillaging and plundering went on. Right?
Now what was believed to have happened in the north was what we would call synchrotism. Namely, intermarrying between Assyrians and northern Jews. Okay?
As far as the historical evidence goes, and the archeological evidence goes, there really isn't much evidence of religious synchrotism. There may have been some intermarrying, there inevitably is when you have an occupying power, but the evidence that somehow the religion of Jews in the north had been amalgamated with Assyrian religion is really lacking. We don't really have any strong evidence of that.
There was more evidence that some of the royals in the north were mingling Judaism with Ba'al worship. You know about that; remember Queen Jezebel? Well, that was before the Assyrians. Anyway - okay?
So, what happened? Northern folks carted off into exile; the southern folks thought they were bullet proof. That is, until 595 B.C. when the Babylonians came calling. There was a certain rule whose name you ought to know. Nebuchadnezzar. His actual name was Nebuchadrezzar, but we got it wrong a long time ago in American education. Nebuchadrezzar.
Jews in Jerusalem believed they were bullet proof, that God would never let his holy city fall. Jeremiah deals with this. He keeps telling them, "No, you're not bullet proof. Here comes the judge. And God will use a foreign power to discipline you,"
And by the way, friends, if God's chosen people weren't exempt from such things, why should we think we are? Just a thought.
So what happens in 595 B.C.? Well, leadership of the southern tribes are carted off into Babylonian exile. Instead of going to Ur they are going to Iraq. That sandbox known as Iraq. That's where they went. It's where the leadership of Jews were taken. And the southern exile lasted from 595 B.C. to about 525 B.C., so Daniel's 70 years. Okay? You with me now?
So what happens when they come back? Well, when they come back, and we're dealing with the story of Ezrah and Nemehiah, the Judean tribes petitioned their northern brethren, "Come help us rebuild Jerusalem."
How eager do you think those northern folks would be to come help the southern folks rebuild Jerusalem after the southern folks from Jerusalem had simply waved goodbye when the northern tribes went off into exile? No so much.
So what you have, from about 5 - before 520 B.C. and continuing thereafter, so for a long time before Jesus, you have the growing up of an indigenous Jewish religion in the north that is not connected to Mount Zion, is not connected to Jerusalem, and in fact, is not interested in the Davidic monarchy.
The Samaritans believed that the Pentateuch was their Bible. They kept singing, [musically] "If it's good enough for Moses, if it's good enough for Moses," and that's it. Their whole Bible was the Pentateuch.
Now, when your Bible is the Pentateuch that leaves out all those historical books. That leaves out the whole story of Saul and David and all of that, which northern Jews, called Samaritans, saw as a wrong left turn. After all, isn't that what those sources say? Exactly that? That the Israelites demand for a king was disloyalty to God. This is what First Samuel says. Right?
So if the Samaritans could say, "Look your sources even say, this was a left turn. We shouldn't have gone there. Stick with Moses."
Now this affected everything in Samaritan life. If your sacred text is simply the Pentateuch, I mean you don't have the Psalms, you don't have the prophets, you don't have Job, you don't have Ecclesiastes - your religion is based on the Pentateuch.
So, did they practice Leviticus? Yes they did. Did they practice the Feast of the Passover? Absolutely they did. To this day there are Samaritans living next to Mount Gerizim in Nablus who offer sacrifice on Mount Gerizim.
There are probably about 500 Samaritans left. They are still a living sect of Judaism in the Holy Land which you may have never run into. But they are still there. You can go see them. I've visited with them. They will show you the Samaritan Pentateuch.
They are very proud of it. If you want to actually see how ancient sacrifice was done, go watch them at Passover. They're having a big time on Mount Gerizim.
These folks were Jews. So far as we can tell their whole religion came from the Pentateuch, not from Zoroastrian sources, Babylonian sources, Assyrian sources. Their whole religion was the Pentateuch.
When they thought of Messiah they thought of a chap they called the Taheb. What this means is the restorer. See, if your whole Messianic expectation is based on the Pentateuch, who is Messiah going to look like? He's going to be the prophet like unto Moses. Remember? Because there's not a lot of Messianic speculation in the Pentateuch.
There's going to be a Star of Jacob. There's going to be a prophet like unto Moses and that's it. You know, none of this Davidic monarchy mess. It has nothing to do with being a messiah according to Samaritans.
They're sticking with the Pentateuch. They keep saying, "Give me that old time religion." You know? Sticking with Moses.
So, this interchange between this woman and Jesus, when He gets to theology is not an interchange like Jesus and Judean Jews. It's not an interchange like Jesus would have with his Galileans at Caesarea Philippi. It's a very different kind of interchange, and you hear what the woman says.
"Sir, I perceive you are a prophet."
Now, if you're a Samaritan you know what that signals. Could this be the one who is greater than Jacob? Greater than the founder who dug his well here at Sychar? Could this be the restorer? Could this be the Taheb? Could this be the guy? The eschatological prophet like unto Moses?
This is why this woman got all excited, wet her pants and ran to town and told everybody. It's - yikes! Samaritan theology comes to bear right now.
And you notice one of the things she does in dialoguing with Jesus is as soon as Jesus touches the sore point of her life - "You've had five husbands and the one you're living with now is not your husband."
You know, as soon as Jesus starts raising sticky, ethical questions she changes the subject of theology. This is a very frequent tactic among "expleting" people.
"Sir, I perceive you are a prophet. Our ancestors said worship here was good. Praise worship in Jerusalem - not so much. What do you think?"
She changes the subject from her personal life to the theology of Jews and Samaritans. That's an interesting little thing.
Alan: How many Samaritans - obviously a very small sect now. How prevalent then?
We think there were several thousand. You know there might have been 20,000 or 30,000 of them. The amount of land that we're talking about squeezed between Judea and Galilee, I suppose, could have supported 100,000 people, counting all of the fertile valleys and the farms and what-not. But it doesn't look like they were that thick on the ground.
So I would say 20,000 or 30,000 people. But they were vigorous; they were devout. I mean, this is another thing. You should never think of the Samaritans as not religious or not devout simply because they weren't like Judean Jews or Galilean Jews. They were. They were profoundly devout. They believed the Pentateuch [inaudible 0:15:33]. Absolutely, they did. So this is some of the background.
Now, there's more to this background. More nearly towards the time of Jesus there had actually been fighting Samaritans and Judean Jews. There was an especial antagonism between Judean Jews and Samaritans because they were making rival claims about the nature of worship and which holy mountain was the holy mountain.
I mean, there was no holy mountain in Galilee where there was a temple. You see what I'm saying? Galilean Jews were seen as sort of Judean Jews with a funny accent.
They were Jews that were out of town Jews, right? The real debate was between Judean Jews and Samaritans over which was the holy mountain, what's the true religion.
Now the other thing you need to understand is that the Old Testament Canon was not really closed by the time you get to the time of Jesus. It had not been officially declared "these books and no other". So there was a debate about what should be in the canon. Everybody agreed the Pentateuch - all the Judean and Galilean Jews agreed the prophet should be in there.
The debate was about what we would call the writings; the trunk end of the canon. There were several books especially debated, one of which is Esther. The reason Esther was just about left out is because it never mentions God; not directly. Okay?
The other book that was very controversial was actually Daniel. Very popular, but very controversial for a variety of reasons. It's interesting to me that Josephus, in telling the history of the Jews in his antiquities - what's most interesting to me is he says that Daniel predicts the rise of the Roman Empire.
In Josephus's view that fourth empire is the Roman Empire. The first empire would be the Assyrians and then the Babylonians and Medo-Persians and then Alexander's empire and then Rome, and that's the four empires of the Book of Daniel. What is so interesting to me is that when he's doing his exposition of Daniel the one section of the book he completely leaves out is Daniel 7. Because it's Messianic. Here's something you need to understand. Here are some of the sayings about Samaritans by Judean Jews.
"To what shall we compare the land of Samaria? It is like a perpetual graveyard."
Now what do you know about the uncleanness of a corpse. How many days do you become unclean if you touch a corpse according to Rabbinical Law? A week; seven days. This is, by the way, is why the priest in Levites passed by on the other side of the road, because if they touched the man and he's actually dead then they can't go to work next week. We'll talk about that in a minute.
So, for Jews, Orthodox zealous Jews, they were supposed to avoid going through Samaria. They were supposed to - if you're from Galilee you sort of cross the Jordan and go south on the other side of the Jordan, and re-cross the Jordan at Jericho and go up the Jericho Road to Jerusalem if you're going on pilgrimage to Passover Feast or Tabernacle Feast, or whatever feast you're going to. Feast of Pentecost. Whatever it is, do not go through Samaria.
So one of the first questions that I'm sure Jesus's disciples would have like to asked Jesus is: "What the heck are we doing in Samaria? Isn't this an unclean land? Why are we here?"
Here's another famous Samaritan saying: "To what shall we like in a Samaritan woman? She is a menstruant from the cradle." That is, she is perpetually unclean. You should never, ever discourse with, fraternize with, touch, never mind share a drinking cup with, a Samaritan woman. This is completely verboten. Bad Jew! Don't do it!
In other words, Jesus is violating all of these stigmas and this woman has got three strikes against her.
A: She's a Samaritan;
B. She's a foreign woman; and
C: She's an immoral woman
That's three strikes and you're out. You don't have conversations with such a person. I mean the basic Jewish rule was that men should only talk with women that they are related to or know. You know, women of the village, women you're related to, women you're married to. You are not supposed to be talking with women that are:
B. Samaritan; and
C. then found out to be from the red light district.
No, thank you. Not supposed to do that. This is why Simon, the Pharisee, is scandalized by Jesus's behavior when the sinner women come and anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7. This is a scandalous thing.
"If this man were a prophet," says Simon, "He'd know what kind of woman this is. He wouldn't have anything to do with her."
Thank you very much. This is the basic male-dominated, patriarchal attitude about women, especially foreign women. And Jesus is breaking all the stigmas. He's breaking all the rules. He's violating all the conventions for the sake of the redemption of the lost.
Male 01: I'm just having a little trouble understanding why the incredible antagonism. Was it just because of a complete religious schism? They believed this? They believed this? I mean it seems above and beyond distaste. I mean -
Well, they had been killing each other off. Not only did the Samaritans not help when they went off into exile, they refused to help rebuild Jerusalem when they came back. Indeed, they did the opposite of that. They put them on report.
"They're rebuilding the temple. You'd better check on them, oh governor from way East."
There was bloodshed. If a Roman governor wanted to really infuriate everybody in this discussion, here's what he would do. He would mingle the blood of Galileans and Samaritans together as they offered sacrifices.
This is a powder keg situation. It's just as volatile as the Palestinians and the Israelis. No question. They were busily killing each other off. There were border skirmishes. You name it. Devout Jews were simply saying, "We are staying out of Samaria."
This is like going to Hebron, if you know anything about Israel today, and if you're an Israeli Jew you are so not going to Hebron. Because what's in Hebron? Well, this is the, if you will, the shrine of the ancestors built by Muslims, for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a crucial Muslim center in the Holy Land and it's chiefly populated by Muslims. There are few Jews hanging on there.
This is hostile territory. You don't want to go there any more than you want to go to Nablus. It's a volatile situation. Yup, Sam.
Sam: The woman who came to amongst Jesus [inaudible 0:23:24] you were talking about...
Sam: How did they know that she was an immoral woman?
Yes, right. Well, there are two ways. First of all, this is small village life. Everybody knew everybody. I mean, everybody in this town in Samaria knew about this woman. You know?
"We no longer Jesus is the Messiah just because he told you all your whole life. We all know that. Okay, so what? That didn't make us prophets. We believed because we've met Jesus and we believe, too."
Right? That's what they say. First of all, we're talking about small village life where everybody knew everybody else's business. Right? But secondly, there is a clue in the text.
"She let down her hair in public."
Now the only women who let down their hair in public were prostitutes, so some would say she's probably a prostitute or a former - now a repentant prostitute because you notice what she does with her hair. She wipes His feet - she's so self-forgetful even in the house of a Pharisee, that she lets down her hair and she wipes Jesus's feet with the hair because she used too much perfume. You know. She's mopping up, using her hair.
Tells you exactly what kind of woman she is. Alright? Scandalous behavior. Who would let down their hair in public? This is not a Rapunzel kind of story. Okay? This is an ancient Near Eastern story where women do not show their hair because their hair is their - as Paul says, their hair is their glory. Don't show it to anybody but your husband. But that's the deal.
Okay. Now several other aspects of this that we need to get a handle on. How comfortable are the disciples with this interchange Jesus is having with the Samaritan woman that they get in on the very end of?
We have more parenthetical remarks in the Gospel of John than in any of those other gospels. There is more explaining, and there is a reason for that. The audience needs more explaining. It doesn't know the Christian tradition, it doesn't know the Jewish tradition.
As I said, this is a gospel meant for evangelism, so there is more explaining of things. Explaining of customs, for example, and we have this parenthetical remark: "The disciples didn't dare ask Jesus why He was talking to this woman."
I mean, from their point of view they are having apoplexy. They are going, "Oh, this is not good again. Here He goes again." You know? "This is not good. This is not what my momma told me to do."
You know, it's violating a lot of the basic Jewish social and cultural teaching that they had been raised with.
A. She's a woman;
B. She's a Samaritan woman; and
C. Now she's an immoral woman?
"Why are you talking to her? She should be shunned. She should be an outcast." And in fact, she is an outcast because what time of day is she at the well? Noon. You don't go to the well at noon unless you're trying to avoid attention.
The time that women in the ancient Near East went to the well was at dawn, the first thing in the morning. You go draw the water while it's still cool, among other things. You bring the water back to the house for the day.
Now lets look at the nature of the conversation. You remember I told you last night about the two levels of these conversations. Right?
Jesus is talking about spiritual water. She thinks he's talking about a creek because the phrase "living water" was the way you referred to a creek in that whole culture. Living water meant water that was moving. This is why in the Christian document the Didache, the author says, "Baptize them in living water." That is, running water, and then he says, "If you can't find living water use still water."
Living water means running water. So, this woman thinks that Jesus knows where there is a creek in town where she can get the H2O, and not have to come all the way out here to Jacob's well.
See that's what she assumes this conversation to be about. Right? What's the source of water? And of course, in a dry and weary land your source of water is your source of life. I mean, if you want to understand why water is an emblem of life you need to understand the ancient Near East.
Even the Holy Land, between May and October, there is zero rain. Zero. This is why all the battles are fought in the summer. You don't have a weather problem. You can just go. Zero rain.
So what do you have to do? You have to hoard water. You have to have cisterns. Some of the more interesting archeological digs that have been done around Jerusalem in the past 20 years have dug up these enormous olympic swimming pool sized cisterns, just to store water.
It's not just the Pool of Siloam or the Pool of Bethesda, which are cisterns. That's what they are. There was a huge Salominic pool which was dug up that was a mile long and about a hundred yards deep. Huge, enormous cistern to collect rainwater. Why? Because you're going to go three or four months of the year with no rain.
You have to understand the situation. Therefore, what do you do in the summer when you're growing crops. You've got to what? Hand irrigate. It's not like they have a sprinkler system. Right? You have to hand irrigate the plants. This is labor intensive, to say the least.
So, everybody is always excited if the good water is closer to the house instead of way out of town. Right? The Samaritan woman gets excited.
"You know where there's a creek that I don't know about? Where is this living water? Show me sir and I won't have to come to the well any more. We're good."
Two levels of discourse. She's thinking plain old H2O and He's thinking of a very different kind of living water. It's powerful. This is a powerful thing. You see, she's no more spiritually adept initially than the disciples who come back with their take-out from Hardee's, you know, and Jesus says "I have food you know not of," and they are all going, "Somebody else bringing him lunch?"
What happened here? You see they are thinking on the mundane level and Jesus is talking at a deeper and more spiritual level.
So what's going on in this story? It is a conversion story. It's an illustration of what we studied last night from the Nicodemus story. Here is a person about to be born again, and how does it happen? It happens through dialogue with Jesus. It happens through having a little talk with Jesus. That's how it happens here.
Now lets talk about the theological discussion they have for a minute. I've used this passage. I've got a new little book coming out on the nature of worship called "We Have Seen His Glory". This passage is a very important passage for getting at Jesus's view of worship.
Jesus says, "The day is coming and now is that neither on Mount Gerizim nor on Mount Zion, but wherever in spirit and truth."
You know this discussion? He says that worship needs to comport with God's nature. What we know about God's nature is He's not confined to a building somewhere. Despite what ancient near Eastern people believed that Gods dwelled in temples. Okay?
"Not so much," says Jesus. "God is Spirit. He doesn't need a human house. And we should worship him in spirit and in truth wherever in spirit and in truth."
This is the nature of eschatological worship now that Jesus is here. You see, what Jesus is saying is that the ancient focus of Judaism on Torah, temple and territory is all going to change now.
You don't need a temple when His body is the temple. You don't need a Torah when He is the law. And you don't need the territory if the kingdom of God is co-extant with the world. You don't need a specific Holy Land. He's changing the nature of the discourse about worship.
Wherever, whenever, in spirit and truth, because God is spirit and is everywhere. It's a powerful discussion, however brief and tantalizing about the nature of worship.
Now, what's the significance of this all happening at Jacob's well? What do we know about Jacob? What happened at Bethel with Jacob? He wrestled with an angel and he had a name change. Remember?
In a sense we are supposed to see this story as a woman wrestling with the Divine One and extracting a blessing. In other words, we're supposed to hear an echo of the Jacob story here. There's an echo of the Jacob story here, and it's an intentional echo of the Jacob story without question.
And it changes her life, just as wrestling with the angel changed Jacob's life. So this changes her life and then the story develops into irony.
Now, one of the things you notice about the fourth gospel is that the fourth gospel writer wants to tell stories at some length. He's not interested in giving sound bites. It's not like the synoptics.
In Matthew and Mark you kind of get sound bite stories. Hardly any descriptors, right? When you get to Luke you have a little bit more lengthy stories and more lengthy parables. And when you get to John the man say's, "You know, we're just going to forget about telling the parables. We're going to tell long narratives about Jesus."
And that's one of the really literary differences between the Gospel of John and looking at the synoptics. This story goes on for over 40 verses. He allows the story to be more fully told because he believes that through the narrative the character of Jesus is revealed, and it's powerful.
So, when you get to the end of the story, you're going to expect a surprise and there is a surprise. Jesus says, "You know, I have food that you know not of." And then he tells this little story that's like a parable about the sower and the reaper. And about the sower and the reaper rejoicing together. You caught bit? Right there at the end?
Okay - here's the question: Who had just been doing the sowing? Jesus had sowed it in the woman. Who had she sowed it in? The Samaritans.
Had the disciples the - the "duh-sciples" - gone to town and sowed the seed in the Samaritans? Not so much. They were avoiding the Samaritans the best they could, even though they were in Samaria. Right? They were out of bounds, and they were trying to stay out of bounds.
You notice they didn't go to town and eat. They came back with their take-out, offering Jesus some. Okay? So Jesus tells a little story at the end to indicate that the ones who had been doing the sowing were in fact Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And that they should all rejoice because the reaping was a lot of Samaritans came to Christ.
So, say, "Hooray!"
And the disciples are going, "Great."
Jesus says, "Try again."
"Hoo-ray! Can we get out of town now?"
This is about reaching beyond the borders of what was considered Orthodox Judaism of that day and it's trying to teach the disciples the lesson that they should be open to dialoguing with the least, the last, and the lost, and even the foreigners. They should be open to this because God loves them to. God loves the world. Not just the disciples and not just Galilean and Judean Jews. He loves the world.
And so, at the end, this woman is portrayed as somebody who is a disciple planting the seed of the gospel in her own people. And of course, they very proudly go and say, "You know, initially we believe because of what you said, but now that we've met Jesus in person, it's all good. We believe on our own."
There's a little bit of snobbery in all of that. It's a little tainted to believe on the basis of an immoral woman, so, you know, lets get on with the real deal here.
It's a powerful story and it is meant to reveal something very important about the character of Jesus. Our author is telling stories that would have been tremendously offensive in their original setting.
And how does the story end? Does Jesus at the end of the story say, [musically] "On the road again"? No, He accepts the invitation of the Samaritans to stay several more days and the disciples are all going "Oy vey. Just when we thought we were going to get out of town and get back to Galilee."
Not so much. Not so much. He stays several more days with the Samaritans. Now this illuminates the parable of the Good Samaritan which it would never have been called in the first century A.D.
Lets think about this parable. Just as Jesus is out of bounds in John 4, the Samaritan is out of bounds in this parable. Where is he? He's on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He's in enemy territory. He's in Judea and he certainly, as a Samaritan, would have felt no obligation to stop and help the man on the side of the road who was a Jew, not a Samaritan. If he had not been a Jew, Jesus would have had to say so in the parable. Okay?
So lets think about this story. There was a certain man who went down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell amongst thieves. Now, if you know this road, it descends over 2,500 feet in 20 miles. It's a very winding, precipitous, downward road to the lowest city on earth, which is Jericho. Okay?
And he fell amongst thieves. Well, if you've ever seen the original Jericho Road, which is winding through waddies and hills and all of this, you would know why it would be easy to fall among thieves. They beat him and they stripped him, they took whatever they wanted from him and they left him for dead.
Now here's where I tell you that when parables were told, and Jesus was by no means the originator of parable telling - we have some in the Old Testament. Remember this parable of Nathan, that Nathan told about the ewe lamb to David so that he could say to David, "You da man" at the end of the parable? Remember that one?
This parable of the Good Samaritan is illustrative of the spirit of Jesus in a lot of ways. Jesus was not the only parable teller and when ancients told parables, they tried to follow the Rule of Three. That is, you have no more than three main characters in a parable, that's number one. Okay? And normally the third main character is the one who is going to be the redeeming feature, or hero of the parable. Okay?
Now context is important, too. Before we look any further at the story. Who is it that asks Jesus the question, "And who precisely is my neighbor?"
Yes, it's a lawyer, and by which it's meant not Sam Waterston of "Law and Order". It's an expert in the Mosaic Law. And who did that person work for? He worked for the priests and the Levites.
His heroes in this story would be the priests and Levites. Right? That would be his heroes in this story. A certain man went down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell amongst thieves, was stripped, beaten and left for dead.
A priest, then, came down the road and saw the man lying on the side of the road, thought to himself, "He might be dead. He could be dead. If he's dead and I touch him, then what happens to me? I become unclean. I can't do my priestly duties next week. I can't feed my family." So he passes by on the other side of the road.
Just a little footnote. We know for a fact that there were lots of priests and Levites who lived in Jericho because they couldn't afford to live on Mount Zion. So they lived in the suburbs. They made a 20 mile walk back and forth to work once a week. They lived in Jericho; they worked on Mount Zion in the temple precincts.
This is the commuter road. Okay? This is the I-71 that people used. So, the priest passes by on the other side of the road, leaving the man in his misery.
The second figure in the story is the other person the lawyer worked with, the Levite. Who were the Levites opposed to the priests? Tell me what you know about your Old Testament. What's the difference between a priest and a Levite?
Female 01: They took care of the temple.
Sure. They were the assistants. They were, you know, they were like the vergers in an Anglican cathedral. They took care of the apparatus and the equipment in cleaning things and all of that. They were technically priests but basically they were helping staff is what they really were for the most part.
You need to understand that even if you're of the proper blood line, only some people got to be priests. They had to be chosen. The person who controlled the choosing of the high priest was in fact, the Roman governor. What we learned, and one of the things you should know is, that the family who controlled the high priesthood from the time of Jesus all the way to the time of the death of James, the brother of Jesus, in 62 A.D., was the same family.
It went Annas, Caiaphas, Caiaphas's son, Caiaphas's grandson, and it was Caiaphas's grandson who had James, the brother of Jesus, executed. So there was this animus between the Jesus family and the Caiaphas family during this whole period from 30 to 62 A.D. It was a long running family thing.
But it was the Roman governor who decided who the high priests were. Okay? Not everybody who had the bloodlines got to be priests, or even high priest. It was a very specific thing.
Well the Levite also passes by on the other side of the road. Now, in the Rule of Three, in a parable like this, in early Judaism, normally then what you have is "Joe Devout lay Jew" who comes along and does the job the priest and the Levite should have done, and so the leity shows up the clergy. Hoo-ray. Right?
Now that's the way a parable would have gone that was a little unexpected, a little surprising. So, undoubtedly the lawyer would have expected that the third person who comes along would be a devout, ordinary Jew. Right? Is that what happens?
Not so much. The third person who comes around is completely unexpected and out from left field. It's the Samaritan who is out of bounds and has no obligation to Jews. Indeed, Jews would object that he shouldn't even touch a Jew. He shouldn't touch a Jew, even if he's dead.
But in fact, he does. He goes over, he looks closely, he finds that the man is not yet dead. He takes out oil and he takes out wine. Oil to soothe the bruises and wine to sterilize the cuts. Because there's what in wine? Alcohol.
It's not non-alcoholic. The toastmaster at the Wedding Feast at Cana did not say, "You've saved the best grape juice for last." This so did not happen.
So he salves the man's wounds and his cuts. He binds him up. At that point he could have said, "I've done my good turn daily. I'm done." And he could have left, but he does not. Instead, he endangers his own journey by putting a wounded man on his pack animal and starts carting him further down this road.
And then, when he gets to the Holiday Inn Express in Jericho, he doesn't simply dump the man on the innkeeper and say, "Look - you're a Jew, he's a Jew, you take care of him." He says, "Look, he needs some convalescing, here is some money to help with the costs of the convalescing and if there is more, I'm a commuter, I'll be back this way. I'll pay again if need be."
Now this is a tremendously offensive story because it's breaking all of the stereotypes that that Judean Jewish lawyer would have had. And you see, he had asked the question, "Who is my neighbor?"
Have you ever noticed that Jesus hardly ever gave a direct answer? People would ask him a question and he'd say, "Let me tell you a story." He hardly ever gave a direct answer.
And he did not answer the question "Who is my neighbor?" directly. The question he answered was, "How should I be neighbor to everybody? How should I be neighbor to everybody, and should I be neighbor to everybody?"
Because, you see, what the lawyer was looking for was a legal limitation of the meaning of the word "neighbor". If he could be told "Who was my neighbor? then he knew "who was not my neighbor" and all of that stuff about love they neighbor as thyself, would not apply to the non-neighbor. You see?
The heart of the law. Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If you narrow the definition of neighbor enough, it's doable. Right? And this is what he wants. He wants a legal definition of non-neighbor, like Samaritans, for example.
So Jesus deliberately, in his face, throws up Samaritan as example of neighbor. That's what's going on and it is enormously offensive. This is not a nice little spiritual deity with no social implications. This is the social gospel. Jesus is dropping a hand grenade in the life of this lawyer and blowing up all his stereotypes. That's what's happening here.
This is as offensive as Martin Luther King, Jr., saying that God cares about the content of your character and he doesn't give a hill of beans about the color of your skin. This is offensive. Jesus believed His job was not merely to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable, and that's exactly what He's doing here. He's afflicting the comfortable.
So, Jesus makes the lawyer answer the question. Now who do you think was more of a neighbor in this particular situation? And you can just hear the lawyer, you know, gritting his teeth and going, "Well, I reckon it was the Samaritan." [spitting sounds] "Samaritan!"
And then Jesus sticks the knife all the way in and says, "Go be like him. Go be like him."
I mean, this is offensive. This is not only blowing up the stereotypes, it's shaming a man who thought he was a righteous Jew for using his orthodoxy as a tool to justify his prejudice.
And hear me now - that will not fly with Jesus. You don't use your orthodoxy as a tool to justify your prejudices against other kinds of people. It will not do.
Jesus is blowing up that kind of stereotype. He's blowing it up. Nor should you use your orthodoxy as an excuse to redefine the word neighbor, so that you don't have to deal with awkward, ugly and offensive people who may even hate your religion. It won't do. It's not Jesus.
The Gospel of John is full of these kinds of stories and they are just powerful in breaking down the stereotypes to reach everyone for the sake of salvation. It has been said that the Gospel of John is the most spiritual of the gospels, and it is true, but it's also the most socially challenging one because he's saying, "You need - you need to deal with not just lost Jews, you need to deal with Samaritans. And you need to deal with not just lost Samaritans you need to deal with Greeks. And you need to not just deal with Greeks - by which he meant the Asper Jews - you need to deal with Gentiles. Because Jesus is the savior of the world.
Alright, I'm going to stop for a minute and ask what questions did this whole Samaritan unit from the Gospel of John raise for you? What questions?
Female 02: Some people try to make this story especially of the woman at the well, more than just a social story and leave out the conversion aspect?
Female02: What are some good ways to talk about how those two are brought together?
Yes. What I would say is that you can't have the spiritual gospel without the social gospel, and vice versa. You know, these two things go together. All real conversions have social implications.
They change the nature of your relationships. That's a social implication. They should change your world view. They do change your world view.
They certainly changed Paul's world view. Paul was busy carting off Christians and having them executed. That's a change of world view, you know.
So, conversion is not just about you being saved. Conversion is about you becoming one who emulates the character of Christ. And that's completely social. If you're starting to imitate the behavior of Jesus, there is no spiritual gospel.
See, one of the problems we have in our post-modern [coughing] situation is, religion is assumed to do with interior feelings and experiences. It doesn't have to do with the facts, or history, or all of that. So what we've had in this era is the agnosticising of religion. Even the agnosticising of Christianity, making it a purely spiritual thing that has, you know, is so heavenly minded it's no earthly good. Right?
This is not the religion of Jesus and it was not the religion of the earliest Christians.
One of the reasons for the enormous appeal of the agnostic gospels in our day to non-believers or fringe believers, you know, is precisely because it allows them to have a spirituality without having a social conscience. It allows them to have a spirituality without having to live with the hard ethics of Jesus. It allows them to have a spirituality without any zeal about evangelism or mission. You know?
This is exactly what people want. A narcissistic religion that makes me feel good about myself.
Michelle: On that same line, what do you say the people who do have a mission but don't have the spirituality?
Yes. Well, my experience has been that most of those are people who have failed to continue to nourish their spirituality. What initially led them down this path was some kind of genuinely religious righteous indignation, or some concern for the poor. All of which has a spiritual root, you know? Some self-sacrificial good urge. But what happens in the process is spending your whole time opening cans of beans for the poor is, you cease to keep nurturing your spiritual life. You don't keep going to the well and drinking yourself, because you're so busy pouring out water.
What happens to these folks is that they get burned out. I see this over and over again. The other part of the problem is that they get frustrated with conservative Christians, because too few conservative Christians are actually committed to the social gospel.
Thank god that this church - I'm happy to be doing this in this church, which is committed to the social gospel, you know. I think that's the ultimate exterior implication of our gospel, is the social gospel. I think that's important and powerful.
Most of the folks like you're talking about are liberal protestants who once had a more evangelical faith, but they have been so off-put by the narcissistic behavior of evangelical Christians who don't care about the social gospel, that unfortunately they've thrown the Orthodox baby out with the bath water.
I mean, I have a lot of talks - I'm going at the end of February to have a long debate with Dom Crossan, an Irish Catholic former seminary professor in DePaul in Chicago, who has written all of these, you know, Jesus seminar books. Right?
Well, he still cares about the social gospel, but you know, the spiritual root of all that in a real profound love of Jesus is not really shining bright in his life any more. I can actually talk to him about that, but his gut level reaction is in fact, "Oh, you conservative protestants. First of all, you're naive and secondly, you're hypocrites. You talk about being like Jesus, but you're not prepared to actually go out and do it.
And he has a case. He has a case, because too many of us are more interested in nurturing our little old pea-picking hearts and not going out and saving the lost. You know. I understand that. Here's what I say to him about that.
I say, "You need to judge a form of Christianity not at its worst, but at its best. Let me show you this person, who is living out the gospel and is doing the same kind of things you're concerned about doing for the poor and the lost and all of that, but he has evangelical vibrancy and a deep, profound prayer life, and is not casting aspersions on other people's theology."
See, he's angry with the church. There are lots of reasons to be angry with the church, of course. Yes, Dan?
Do you think in the lawyer's original answer that it was good to love God with all your heart -
[coughing] Yes. - might show strength, and then to love your neighbor that in that answer there was a connection between the two that loving your neighbor is worship of God. If that's at the center of your loving your neighbor and that continues to be fed and a Samaritan was actually serving the Jew out of love for God, and that continues to be invested in, then when that's done, it's not socially justifying the people who do it. It's social justice that's reflecting God. If it's done as a way of life, as worship to the Lord -
Right. - then God can sustain that and people can find Jesus in it because he's already there.
Yes, I think there's a lot of truth to that. What I'm actually arguing in my worship book is that all of life should be doxological. That is, you shouldn't do anything you can't do to the glory of God. All of life should be doxological. However, that does not supplant. It merely supplements the call and need for us to enter into His house with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise and engaging corporate worship.
Jesus is not saying stop worshiping in the ways we've worshiped before. What He's saying is lets have a broader vision of God and not sort of tagging everything to some kind of physical center where you would go and worship God. You know?
What I mean to say is that worshiping God rather than worshiping the mission.
Oh, yes. And that is a real problem for some people who understand how important the mission is. I love the way that those two scriptures were together, and that the Samaritan, I believe, was worshiping God and loving God when he loved his neighbor. I think that's where the church finds God the most.
Well, see, here's the other thing that I get out of that, and also out of the Lord's Prayer. Remember in the Lord's Prayer where it says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us"?
You see, the disconnect for Americans is the vertical and the horizontal are co-entailed and codependent. That is, you cannot fully or truly love God unless you are also loving your neighbor, and vice versa.
Similarly, you will put an impediment to receiving the forgiveness of God in your life, unless you are forgiving. There is something about our connection with God that also necessarily entails our connection with other human beings. There is a vertical and a horizontal dimension to it.
What post-modern religion is all about is severing the connection between the vertical and the horizontal; between the historical and the spiritual. So it's just purely the narcissistic vertical thing. It's just me and Jesus, me and Jesus, or me and God or me and Buddha or whoever it is. You know? It's my private spirituality.
Here's what I want to say to that. One of the things I absolutely would say to that is, religion is deeply personal, but Christian religion can never be private. There is a difference between it being personal and it being private. Christianity is never meant to be private. It's certainly deeply personal, but you see in our culture that's a disconnect. That's your private religion. That's your opinions, ya-da, ya-da, ya-da.
That would never do from Jesus's point of view. That would never do from Paul's point of view. They didn't die so we could have a personal, privatistic spirituality. That's not what they were all about.
So, for me, you know, it's about sharing the whole gospel with the whole world in all its full challenging implications. Of course, it challenges us as much as it would challenge the world because we're Christians under construction.
I was at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, which, if you ever get a chance to go you ought to go. It's a great trip. It's a nice spiritual pilgrimage to see all the work that God did through Billy and Ruth for so many years.
You may know that she grew up in China, the child of missionaries. She has her own fabulous story to tell. Her gravestone is there. On her gravestone it says, "Thanks for your patience. Construction completed."
I like that. That's good. She knew she wasn't perfect. She knew God was still working on her.
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