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Luke 10:25-37

Healing, reconciliation and mission in a broken world

Johannes Nissen

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live". But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise".

The aim of this Bible study is to reflect on healing, reconciliation and mission in a broken world. Its main focus will be on the famous story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. As with many other famous texts, this message has often been tamed. However, this story has a number of shocking points that might be of relevance for our reflections. Let us look at some of these points.

Redefinition of "neighbourhood"

The parable does not answer the original inquiry of the lawyer. "Who is my neighbour?" The text (10:29) poses the question in insider/outsider terms. However, in the parable, "neighbour" shifts from the object of love to the subject who shows love: "Which of the three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man...?" (10:36) The question is turned around in a way that erases boundaries.

Openness to the world of "the other"

The lawyer´s initial question is answered from the point of view of the other - the man lying by the roadside, the person in need of a neighbour. We have to practice our healing and reconciling work from where "the other" actually is. The "other" is here the victim of robbery. This confronts us with the call to serve people in their specific social and historical situations. Otherwise, the Christian community will fail in its calling to be a healing and reconciled community.

A de-centring of perspective

Jesus dares to make a Samaritan the hero of the story; the enemy is placed in the position of the elect and becomes the example for the community. A Jewish audience would have been shocked at holding up a Samaritan as an exemplar while discrediting the respected temple priest and Levite. The shock of reversal in this parable is similar to the foot-washing in John 13. Instead of defining love conceptually, these two stories portray love in dramatic and disturbing action. When a national enemy is given the heroic role and the host at table puts himself in the role of a slave, our usual way of perceiving the world is turned upside down.

Other gospel stories are marked by a similar de-centring of perspective. The disadvantaged - the women, the poor person, the stranger etc. - suddenly take centre stage. A "sinful woman" (Luke 7:36-50), a poor widow (Luke 21:1-4), a tax collector (Luke 19:1-10) and an outsider (Luke 10:30-37) become bearers of God's own good news.

Healing of individuals - reconciliation of groups

The parable of the Good Samaritan is about healing. In the first place, the healing act is directed towards an individual. However, there is also another aspect of the story. The parable must be seen in the light of the hate and conflict between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus. Compare this parable to other stories about Samaritans: John 4:1-42; Luke 9:51-56. We are invited to the task of repairing broken relationships between two particular groups.

Luke 10:25-37 is often considered to be the biblical justification of charity work, but it is more than this. The Samaritan does not perform a simple, charitable action. Rather, he enacts what we might call "liberative action"; that is, a combination of aid and a kind of help which makes it possible for the man who was fallen into the hands of robbers to walk again by himself. Samaritan diakonia, or service to others, is an option for life; it is a support for those who have fallen and lie half-dead by the roadside of history, so that they may be liberated and be able to enjoy life in its fullness, the abundant life which comes from God.

Seeing - having compassion - acting

In what way does the Samaritan react to the man fallen into the hands of robbers? He "saw him", "he was moved with pity" and "he went to him" (10:33-34). All three steps are important. First, it is impossible to help without first seeing those in need. We are not able to detect those who suffer just by studying statistics or by reading reports. They are real persons in flesh and blood. Therefore, it is indispensable to see. Second, we are told that the Samaritan was moved by pity (10:33). However, the word "pity" is a pallid translation of the original Greek (esplangchnisthe) that means being shaken in the depths of the womb. Compassion goes beyond pity; it bridges the gap between perception and effective action. This brings us to the third point: The Samaritan "went to him". It is only when all three actions have been taken that the Samaritan can do what is required.

It should be noticed that Jesus´ healing ministry is sometimes described as "compassion". One example is Matthew 9:35-38: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36). Jesus´ compassion is not just a sentimental attitude of concern, but one that results from personal contact with the poor and the oppressed. His compassion functions as social awareness and is translated into mission (compare Matthew 10:1-16). We need to see people in need in order to be shaken from our complacency. We need to learn to see the crowds as Jesus saw them - with eyes of compassion. Indifference and apathy have no place in the Christian life

The divine love

The Samaritan has often been interpreted as a symbol of Christ. He has been seen as the good shepherd (John 10). This interpretation is supported by the fact that Jesus is called "Samaritan" in John 8:48. Perhaps more interesting is another resemblance between Jesus and the Samaritan. On his way to Jericho, Jesus met a blind beggar who shouted "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still - and healed the man (Luke 18,35-43). Similarly, the Samaritan did not pass by on that same road, but stopped, thereby indicating that divine love is always on the alert. It can never be postponed.

For further reflection

This parable illustrates that the imagination is invited to move from the pattern of Jesus´ story to discover how to act faithfully in a new situation. The final statement is "Go and do likewise" (10:37). The mandate is not "Go and do exactly the same" as the Samaritan did in the story. It is decidedly not "Go and do whatever you want". The term "likewise" implies that Christians should be faithful to the story of Jesus, yet creative in applying it to their own contexts and the specific needs of those around them. How, then, are we faithfully to apply the text?

The "Good Muslim". In this story Jesus challenged the expectations of the Jewish audience by pointing to a Samaritan as an example. Today, a similar reversal of expectations might occur if we were to combine the notion of compassion with the notion of a foreigner or another person we dislike. In Western countries an increasing number of doctors and social workers from other lands, or proclaiming alternate lifestyles, are working at hospitals, homes for the elderly etc. Some people are not happy to receive assistance from these "others". Even outside the West, clashes in world culture lead to a temptation to raise barriers between communities.

How should the church react to this phenomenon? Does it make sense to speak of "The Good Muslim", or "The Good Homosexual"? Would people in a culture mistrustful of the United States be impressed by a parable of "The Good American"? If these examples are found to be irrelevant, do you have other suggestions?

Blindness versus perception. The priest and the Levite notice the beaten, stripped man but keep their distance in order to avoid any contact that might defile them. He might be a gentile or even a corpse. In this sense, he is "untouchable". They cannot afford to perceive his full humanity because his condition is threatening.

What kind of people are considered to be untouchable in your society? How do you look at persons who suffer from HIV and AIDS?

The interpretive role of outsiders. Christian interpretation of Scripture is enriched by the encounter with outsiders. In Luke 24:13-35 a stranger (Jesus) enables the Emmaus disciples to see in a new way. The importance of the outsider is also underlined in Matthew 15:21-28 (the Cannaanite woman) and by Acts 10:1-11:18 (Peter and Cornelius). The last story emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in bridging ancient divisions.

How do you listen to the voices of outsiders in your own context?

Mission as reconciliation - an embracing of the other. The gospel of Jesus Christ is essentially "stranger"-centred. Christian faith is based on the commitment to embrace and accept the other person in his or her otherness. "The church is called to be a healing community and an open and secure space for vulnerable people" (CWME Prepatory Paper No. 3). The image of the Good Samaritan, if internalized as a model, may lead one to a general perspective from which one sees all humankind as a single family under God, and it might evoke the specific intention of helping to break down barriers that in fact still separate "Jew" and "Samaritan", male and female, bond and free (Gal 3:28).

Who are the "others" in your community? In what way can the parable in Luke 10 illustrate this call to be reconciled communities?

Seeing the world "from below". The challenge is to see the world from the viewpoint of the victims, from the viewpoint of the poor and little ones. "Little ones", in the strategy of Jesus, became not only the objects but also the subjects of mission. To think of the implications of taking seriously this understanding of mission is mind-boggling.

Can a church of the "great ones", the "strong ones", the "prosperous ones" or the "comfortable ones" evangelize or be evangelized by the "little ones" of this earth? Who are the little ones in your society? What are we doing for them, and what is their place as facilitators of mission and servants of the gospel through our churches?

Theory and practice - the integrity of mission. "You have given the right answer. Do this and you will live" (Luke 10:29). The lawyer knows what to do. Can he put it into practice? Integrity of mission is holistic - witnessing through words, through works and through transformed lives.

How can this integrity of mission be made real in your own life?