November 2015 Final Issue
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Power In Parable (7 of 7)

This is an invitation to journey through the parables. This will be a series that runs over the course of many issues. Please click here  for all the articles in the Power In Parable series. To finish our series on the parables, we will end with one of the most familiar parables that Jesus taught. In fact, even unbelievers will talk about The Good Samaritan as a euphemism for helping someone in need. However, many who use the expression won’t recall what prompted Jesus to tell the story. Read the Parable of the Good Samaritan-Luke 10:25-37. Be sure to read it aloud, hearing it as Jesus told it. The telling of this parable was prompted by a question asked of Jesus by an expert of the Law. Although sometimes referred to as a lawyer, he was a Torah (Law) scholar, one who seriously studied halakah and genuinely desired to understand every nuance of it. His question was not asked to entrap Jesus as some of the Sadducces attempted. He obviously recognized Jesus to be a very gifted rabbi (which means teacher). He addressed Him thus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The conversation that ensues is typical rabbinic discourse. Questions answer questions. Lively discussion is encouraged. Illustrations are given. Observers would no doubt have looked back and forth at the two engaged in such a quick-paced discussion much like a tennis match. This is rabbinical dialog at its finest. Jesus is aware that the scholar knows the Law, probably has committed large parts of it to memory. And so He asks, “How do you read the Law about it?” The scholar’s answer is a quote from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema is a testimony of the sovereignty of God and is the basic tenet of Judaism. It is declared twice a day in prayer and at other significant times. The Torah scholar replies with conviction, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”  Then he adds a quote from Leviticus 19:18, “and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms his answer, honoring the Law given to Moses, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” Jesus is referring to both abundant life on earth and eternal life with God. Then we are able to eavesdrop on the ways in which Jewish theology is discussed and taught. Each fine point of the Law is dissected so that one will not miss any nuance of the meaning. The scholar is trained to do this, even expected to do this in order to justify his interpretations. (He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus…..) We are not told what interpretation he had previously given to the word “neighbor,” but he asks Jesus to clarify it from His perspective. “And who is my neighbor? Neighbor Before we get into the parable itself, let’s explore the meaning of the Hebrew word for “neighbor” and why the theology scholar asked the question. No doubt he had already spent hours and hours discussing with other scholars and teachers the interpretation of what it meant to love one’s neighbor. Is it loving people you know? People you like? Someone near to you? Certainly not an enemy! The Hebrew word rea (neighbor) can be translated in several different ways. It literally means “someone who is near” but that could be confusing because it could be a complete stranger who is near. The Siloam Inscription, from the days of Hezekiah, records for us some of the history of the construction of the tunnel to bring fresh water into Jerusalem. It tells of the workers who began at one end of the tunnel calling out “rea” to the workers at the other end of the tunnel so they would know when they were nearing completion. This usage does not denote a close friend but a co-worker. Samaritan There is one other thing that is important to know about the culture in 1st century Israel before we unpack the parable. That is the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. A Samaritan plays an important part in the parable so it is helpful to understand what every listener to the parable would immediately assume about him. It’s a bit of a history lesson, but it makes the parable come alive when we know the background. As a group, Samaritans were not viewed favorably by the Jews. The prejudice had a long history, dating back to the time the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (the 10 tribes) in 722 BC and took over the capital, Samaria (present day Nablus). The Assyrians captured most of the prominent Jews and dispersed them into many different countries. In their place, to keep the economy stable, they set up a foreign upper class of people from such places as Babylon, Cuthah, Acca, Harnath and Sepharvaim, who brought with them their pagan religions. The Assyrian rulers mixed several ethnic populations of captured nations to diminish chances of rebellion by the conquered people. This resulted in what was considered by Jews to be a hybrid race, the Samaritans. The king of Assyria allowed an exiled Jewish priest to return to Israel to teach the people what “the god of their land required.” (from 2 Kings 17:24-40, NIV) However, even with the instruction of Torah and the way Yahweh required His people to worship, the people persisted in assimilating their former pagan religions with worship of the Lord. Not only did they become a hybrid race, they practiced a hybrid religion. About 130 years after the northern Kingdom was dispersed, the Babylonians captured the southern Kingdom (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin). During their time of exile, the Jews formed a cohesive community in Babylon and actually allowed God to purify their religion by examining the Torah more closely. They understood that they had been exiled because they had neglected their relationship with Yahweh and disobeyed Him, and they developed a more serious commitment to be obedient to Him and know His Word. Out of this came a burning desire to rebuild the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem one day. When they were finally allowed to return home to live out their desire to once again be a holy nation for a holy God, they found that the Jews who had been allowed to stay in the Land (mostly the poorer and less educated people) had intermarried, adopted practices that Torah would not uphold, and were no longer “true Jews.” They combined the activities of pagan religions in their worship of Yahweh. These “Samaritans” (by now a name describing the syncretists) offered to help rebuild the Temple, but the Jews who had been purified during the exile refused their help because of the pagan influences they saw. As a result, the Samaritans built their own temple around 400 BC and worshiped the Lord at Shechem on Mount Gerazim. For centuries the Jews would not condone marriages with Samaritans and would not consider their worship to God as valid. The Samaritans believed the first five books of Moses and lived their lives according to the letter of the Law but would not accept the other writings of the Hebrew Canon. Most Jews, after the exile, looked on Samaritans as “half-breeds” and dangerous to be near. All of these generational prejudices should be considered as Jesus tells this parable. The unexpected hero of His story will be a shocker! Priest Most of the priests during the beginning of the 1st century were Sadducees, appointed by the Romans to officiate on a rotation in the Temple. A few priests were Pharisees. The worship of God had become very political. Priests primarily lived in two communities in Israel, chiefly Jericho and Sephoris. They would travel up to Jerusalem for the duration of their priestly duties assigned to them, then return home afterwards until their next rotation. It is significant to note that in Jesus’ parable, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers …..  A priest happened to be going down the same road.This clearly says that the priest was not going up to Jerusalem for his priestly rotation. He had completed it and was going home. (One goes “up” to Jerusalem, no matter from which direction, recognizing the elevation of the Temple, both physically and spiritually). The priest did not have to worry about becoming spiritually unclean to serve in the Temple if he approached a wounded man. Wounded Man  It is interesting that Jesus clearly lets His listeners know that neither the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan knew the identity of the wounded man. “They (the robbers) stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” The wounded man had no religious or ethnic identification. He could, in fact, be any one of us, wounded, helpless and in dire need. Plot The plot begins with three elements:
  • Robbers approached a traveler.
  • Robbers stripped him and beat him.
  • Robbers abandoned him, leaving him half dead.
The religious men made no effort at all to help him because of their understanding and interpretation of the Biblical law of cleanliness. In essence, they are much like the robbers, in that they are unwilling to reverse the action and they, also, abandon the wounded man. The Samaritan does reverse the actions of the robbers.
  • He approached to help him.
  • He bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.
  • He put him on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
In contrast to the robbers who took the traveler’s money, the Samaritan paid for the inn and gave the innkeeper two silver coins to look after him, promising to give even more when he returned. He set a chaotic situation into God’s order. The Samaritan, by tradition, lived his life according to the letter of the Law as did the priest and the Levite, but he chose to honor life and be God’s instrument of healing and mercy to one crying out for help. As many times in Scripture, we see the answer to one’s cry for help comes from God in unexpected ways. It comes even when there seems to be no hope. The Point One would think that the point of the story is: “Who is your neighbor?” The obvious answer would be:  “Anyone in need.” If you see a need you step in, go the extra mile, sacrifice your personal convenience and do what you can to bring order, mercy and healing into a situation. All of this is an expected response, and it is a Godly one. However, Jesus, in His unique way, gives a twist to the story. He qualifies the way in which one must determine the point He is making. He says to the scholar, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Now the neighbor (rea) is not necessarily only the man in need. Rather, one must consider, “Is my neighbor the priest, the Levite, or God forbid! the Samaritan?” The Torah scholar showed much wisdom in his answer. “The one who had mercy on him.” He did not categorize the Samaritan by his religious or cultural identity. He saw the man for his character. His actions revealed his character. Perhaps the scholar realized from this simple story that every human being, whether a friend, a countryman, or even a perceived enemy, has inestimable value and is to be honored and loved as one loves oneself, and is to be shown mercy. Jesus brilliantly described the character of God. Whatever prejudice, label, discrimination or intolerance has been placed on a person by others, God has placed His divine image in that person and because of that, each one deserves mercy. Because God has mercy on us! Questions to ponder and discuss
  1. If you have had a deliverance from the bondage to sin in your life, did it come in ways or from people you expected? How were you surprised?
  2. Can you identify an intolerance or prejudice in your life (to a specific person, type of person, type of church or ethnic group) that inhibits your reception of God’s love and mercy through them?
  3. Try to identify with the Torah scholar who engaged in dialog with Jesus. What qualities do you see in him that you would like to emulate? Consider spending some time with Jesus with you assuming the role of the Torah scholar. Ask Him to show you the real person(s) you have found difficult. Hear what He says about that person. Be willing to be surprised!
  4. Is there a need in your life about which you have been crying out to God for help? Have you identified with the wounded man by the side of the road who has been ignored and neglected by everyone he expected to help him? Have you felt ignored and neglected by God? If so, this is an important truth to acknowledge. Ask God to open your eyes to see where He has already been helping you. Again, be willing to be surprised!
  5. What attributes of the character of God were exhibited in this parable?
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About Signa Bodishbaugh

Signa Bodishbaugh
Signa Bodishbaugh, along with her husband, Conlee, founded and continues to lead The Journey to Wholeness in Christ conferences. They have held these conferences since 1992 around the USA, in Canada, Europe, Africa, and Israel. She is the author of The Journey to Wholeness in Christ, (a 40-day devotional), Illusions of Intimacy, and Divine Conversations, and is working on her next book, Camp Mimi. She and Conlee live in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They have three married sons and eight grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, watercolor painting, and Hebrew studies. Their website is www.JTWIC.org and their Facebook page is The Journey to Wholeness in Christ. You can subscribe to their Journey Letters online at JourneyInChrist.

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