Questions about the Good Samaritan UPDATED

Recently on Facebook, a friend (a real, live friend, not a fb friend) posted a link to a Gospel Coalition blog about The Good Samaritan. I’ve linked so you can read it. The author, Tullian Tchividjian, offers a neo-Calvinist reading of a pretty traditional (one finds it from the fathers forward) interpretation of the parable in which the parable is read as a response to the lawyer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” rather than, “Who is my neighbor?” On this reading we are to identify with the broken and beaten and robbed man in need of rescue by Jesus, who is, in turn, the Good Samaritan. (More elaborate allegorical interpretations on this line associate the Innkeeper with Saint Paul, the Inn as the Church, and the priest and levite as failed Jewish law keeping, tradition, and/or religion). My friend accused the post of eisegesis, non-sequitur, and most seriously, antinomianism. Could be. I will say that I did not, and do not, find Tchividjian’s reading convincing, regardless of the nobility of its pedigree

Having said that, however, I must depart from my friend’s (and if not his, then certainly most of those who followed-up on his fb page) reading, in which the parable is told as a straightforward response to the lawyer’s second question, “Who is my neighbor?” This is the one we are most familiar with (and the one that Tchividjian himself works against in his blog post). The parable is taken to mean, your neighbor is anyone you meet who is in need of help, regardless of race, religion, or any other socially defining boundary. Religious purity or holiness are not legitimate reasons to avoid entering into the lives of others to offer tangible expressions of aid. With Jesus command, “Go and do likewise,” we are all commissioned to be “Good Samaritans.” I depart from this reading, simply because, that’s not what the parable says either. For that reading, the reading that compels the crossing of all boundaries for the sake of neighborly aid, the “everyone is your neighbor” reading, to flow most smoothly, the man who is beaten must be the Samaritan in need of aid, not the one doing the aiding. The hook of the parable, however, is that it is a Jew who received aid from a Samaritan, that the outsider ‘gets’ neighborliness in a way the insiders do not.

So I find myself (having done almost 0 work on the passage) not drawn to either interpretation because I don’t think the parable intends to answer the “eternal life” question or the “neighbor” question. It aims, I think, to change the question altogether. What say you?

Update: Quite a kerfuffle over here (not sure if the link will work or not) over my query. I think Fr. Lee Nelson has persuaded me that the reversal of roles sharpens Jesus’ indictment of the lawyer for even asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable is not an answer as much as it is an indictment of the lawyer’s hypocrisy. To quote Fr. Lee, “even a Samaritan dog would treat a man dying in the Judean desert better than you hypocrites.” In other words, the question is itself a sign of disobedience to the commandment.

One thought on “Questions about the Good Samaritan UPDATED

  1. Isn’t your reading simply a more nuanced version of “Who is your neighbour?” You note that the Samaritan “gets” neighbourliness. And what is the neighbourliness that the Samaritan gets? Presumably it’s providing for anyone in need, regardless of artificial or perceived boundaries.

    But maybe I’m missing something from your reading. How in your view is the question being changed or challenged?

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