So, I've known the story of The Good Samaritan probably all my life. It's one of those Bible stories that even the non-believers know and like because it's about being good to people, regardless of who they are. At least, that's what we all thought it was about.
Yesterday morning, we had a guest preacher, and he gave us a new twist on the story (a phrase which, I will say, I am always a bit cautious of when we're referring to the Bible . . . I generally have a hard time believing that a couple millenia of Spirit-filled, serious Bible scholars and teachers might have TOTALLY missed the point of a passage . . . but fresh eyes are always good, so carry on).
Our speaker emphasized that correct interpretation of scripture always requires reading in context (very true). And he made note of the context in which this story is told: 1) Jesus has just set his course toward Jerusalem for the final week of his life, so the whole dying-for-the-world business was on his mind, and 2) he has just been asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" So, this story, he proposed, is about how to inherit eternal life -- a remark that initially sent some alarms off in my brain because, as mentioned earlier, we read this as a story about being good . . . and being good is not how you get eternal life.
However, that was not his take on it, much to my relief. He started with identifying who each of these characters must represent, because this is a parable and symbolism is inherent in the genre.
So, if we're talking about how to inherit eternal life, who must the beaten up person on the road be? The needy person? The desperate person who requires assistance? Well, obviously, he is one who is in need of eternal life. Beaten and bruised by the ravages of sin. Ah . . . and then everything else clearly falls into place.
The priest and the Levite -- obvious representatives of the Jewish law -- pass the man by because they either can't help him or won't.
The one who stops, and picks him up, and takes him to shelter, and cares for his needs, and pays the price it takes for him to be healed -- that's the Samaritan. The Unlikely Savior. The person one would least expect. The one scorned by the establishment religious folks . . . the one who "came to his own, but his own would not receive him."
Because THIS is how one inherits eternal life: our Unlikely Savior pays the price for our healing.
Well. How have I lived in Christian circles, attended church all my life, studied scripture and Bible teaching for years and years, and never heard that take on the story?
I'm still going to need to think about it, because as he said, context is important, and the immediate context of that story is Jesus' interrogator asking him, "And who is my neighbor?" which is where we get our traditional interpretation of what Jesus is trying to teach us here. Then again, scripture is a multi-layered thing, and there's no reason the story can't have both meanings. Both meanings are consistent with the rest of the Word.
But I have to say, I like this new interpretation . . . if for no other reason, because it pulls us away from the "Do Good Things" interpretation. Not that we shouldn't do good things. Not that we shouldn't show love to our neighbor. Not that there's anything wrong with that take on the story. But as I said, even the non-believers love that one -- there's nothing distinctly Christian in the call to Do Good Things. It can be a slippery slope from there to a very worldly gospel of works that deceives many into thinking they are earning their way into heaven.
So, I'll meditate on this one for a while. After all, we can never meditate on the gospel story too much.