Who is our neighbour? - A timely bible study in view of the referendum result
Chapter 10 in Luke comes in three parts and so I will deal with each in turn.
Sending out the 72
Jesus sends out the 72. Well perhaps, in the NRSV he sent out 70. There are a number of ideas and suggestions as to whether the number is meaningful, did the number 72 stand as a symbol for the nations of the world? Was there an association with the number in the Sanhedrin. The most common understanding however is that this is indicative that the Gospel is meant not just for Israel but for the whole world.
There is a lot of work to be done. The opposition is becoming more dangerous, (Jesus is sending out the 72 to be like lambs among wolves; if you take that image literally for a moment it is not a pleasant thought.) They are to eat and drink anything offered; not only are they not to be picky; they will probably be entering Gentile houses and may have to eat food that is prohibited to Jews. They are not to stay in multiple places in one town, the work is urgent, they are to give the message and move on.
What happens if the message is rejected? Then Jesus is also rejected and the one who sent Jesus as well. This is reflecting the reality that rejection of the Kingdom of God is a serious business and has consequences.
The preachers returned with good news, they are upbeat. Perhaps they did not get as much rejection as had been initially thought. Jesus refers to the fall of Satan. Again there is debate among theologians. Is Jesus referring to something metaphysical or in God realm that he had seen before time began, or is it related to the feedback he has just heard. Scripture is often difficult to understand as it is written with symbol so often. Satan has just suffered a significant setback from the ragamuffin group of preachers. Sometimes what we do may seem insignificant, but here we have an example of how God sees it.
The Good Samaritan
Who is your neighbour? This story though is also about ritual purity and how it can get in the way of relating to the other, of loving the other. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a symbolic retelling of Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount, and apparently targeted at the Temple High Priests. The bandits are called Lestai. This is a word that means terrorists. The victim has been hijacked by the equivalent of the real IRA, or an extreme jihadist or right wing group and left for dead. The priests on their way to the temple walk on by. To us that sounds awful. However, to the priests they are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are on their way to the temple, they would have completed a complex set of ritual cleansing to make them pass the tests to enter the holy of holies; all these were set down in the law. The victim could well be dead. If they strayed too close they would become defiled and would be unable to perform their priestly duties, which was the whole reason of their being.
The person who helps the victim of course is already defiled as far as the devout Jews are concerned for his is a Samaritan. In fact more than that, he has means, he has a donkey, he frequents inns, so could this be a military man, is he one of the occupying forces? And he is the hero of the story. He is the good neighbour. The parable must have been outrageous to the Jewish listeners. The laws that they so carefully adhered to, are seen as casting them in a light of bigots who put human life second to purity laws. Jesus is again ripping into the purity laws explaining and showing that blind adherence to dogma can easily make us miss the point.
With reference to the sermon on the mount, this is also an example of loving your enemy. Who is your enemy? He is your neighbour. Who is your neighbour? He may end up being your enemy..
Mary and Martha
This is another famous part of the bible, famously probably misinterpreted as well. Often this scene is said to set business against prayer, to set activity against contemplation, and as such people have often felt forces to choose one over the other. But I don’t think it is about that at all. Mary is said to be sitting at Jesus’ feet. She is in effect being a disciple. She doesn’t it seems know her place. She has stepped outside society made boundaries for acceptable female behaviour. She is making herself equal to a man for goodness sake.
Martha is finding this intolerable and complains. Does she think that this behaviour will cause trouble? Jesus again surprises us. He again shows an enlightened attitude to women. He tells Martha that she has nothing to worry about, and in fact, Mary is doing something that is to be commended.
Authors note: In view of the harsh words of the last few weeks that people have put forth on the internet over the referendum and the pain that so many people in this country still are feeling as a result of the decision, this bible study that speaks again of relationship and inclusion may be helpful in the necessary healing process. In the following weeks, I urge everyone to stay close to God and just rest in his/her arms if you are not sure what to say or do.
© Colin Waldock