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The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

The Good Samaritan


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All these people are following Jesus. Jesus is teaching them about the scriptures. He’s teaching them how to live, and so this professional biblical scholar asks Jesus a question, not because he’s actually interested in the answer, but because he is trying to test Jesus to see what Jesus knows. Now I know it’s hard to imagine professors and academics being kind of arrogant and asking questions that aren’t really designed to find the truth, that are just to show off how much they know and make other people look stupid, but it happened in the ancient times in the 1st Century. Just try to imagine it for a little bit.

So anyway, this kind of arrogant teacher here wants to put Jesus to the test, see what he knows and he says “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus flips it right around back on him when he says “Well, what’s written in the law? What do you read?” or “how do you read?” Now that’s an interesting point. What does it mean, “How do you read?” Well it’s critical to remember that the interpretation of  the Torah (of the law, of the scriptures), was hotly debated by scholars in the 1st Century as today. Sometimes my students will get aggravated with me when they say, “What does this passage mean?”And I’ll say, “Well, it’s debated.” Oh, yeah, another debated passage. Some people say this, some people this, some scholars think that, some Fathers think that. Why? Because human language is open to different interpretations, and this is especially true in the Hebrew text, because in the Hebrew text there were no vowels written into the Hebrew language. Ancient Hebrew was unpunctuated without vowels, so it would just be a series of consonants. So literally, you could have a debate about how to interpret a passage based on the way you read it. In other words, did you think that certain vowels should be inserted into this text making it mean a certain word, or other vowels. You could literally read the text out loud in different ways. So how a person reads a text is a very technical way of saying, “How do you interpret it?”

So Jesus is speaking to this doctor of the law in the language of ancient Jewish scholarship and ancient Jewish interpretation of the Torah. And so the lawyer, the doctor of law, he responds to Jesus by quoting two Old Testament texts. He says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and then love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, I like this passage because it shows that those two commandments (the love of God and the love of neighbor) are not something that Jesus made up. Sometimes Christians will kind of assume that the two greatest commandments, being the love of God and the love of neighbor, was like a novelty; this was something Jesus came up with. It’s not, it’s part of ancient Judaism. It was in the core of the Old Testament, it’s in the Pentateuch. The commandment to love God with all your heart and soul and mind is from Deuteronomy 6. This is a basic Jewish prayer that is said several times a day. It’s called the Shema, from the Hebrew word “hear”. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. The second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” is from Leviticus 19, in which it says “you should love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now watch, this is important. In context, the question is “Well, what does it mean when it says love your neighbor? Who does the category of ‘neighbor’ include?” If you go back to Leviticus 19:18, the verse that is quoted by the doctor of the law here is the 2nd half of the verse: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you back up and read the whole verse, listen to what it says: “You shall not take vengeance or bare any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” That’s Leviticus 19:18. So notice there, in context, does neighbor simply mean “the sons of your own people”? In other words, fellow Israelites. It could be interpreted in an inclusive way, meaning anyone who is a neighbor to you, or it could also be interpreted exclusively as saying, “The only neighbor who I have to love as myself are the sons of my own people.” So there is an ambiguity there and if you read the whole text in its even broader context, it mentions your servants, it mentions the deaf, it mentions the blind, it mentions the poor and the great, and so there’s this whole question that arises: “Exactly who is my neighbor in context? Is it just the sons of my own people or is it broader than that?” And so in that context, back up to the gospel and you can understand, the lawyer here, the doctor of law, appears to be asking Jesus in a sense, “What’s your take on the exact meaning of who my neighbor is?” And so Jesus responds to that question (Who is my neighbor?) with the parable of the Good Samaritan. So I hope you can already see how Jesus is answering a specific exegetical question about the love of neighbor from the book of Leviticus by means of this parable of the Good Samaritan.

So in the parable of the Good Samaritan, as we just saw, there are three categories of people...

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