Perhaps the Creator of the universe can make up a story and have it be literally true all in the same breath.
An examination of Luke 10:25-37
The famous phrase, “A good Samaritan,” is born of this mashal/parable of Messiah Yeshua. The parable of the Samaritan teaches that all people should have compassion on others regardless of their relationship to them. The Samaritan, a historical enemy of the Jewish people was clearly perceived to be an enemy who showed compassion to his neighbour, neighbour being synonymous with enemy in this mashal. This is consistent with Yeshua’s wider teachings and is stated succinctly the following text:
Matthew 5:43-48New American Standard Bible (NASB) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The p’shat (plain meaning) of the parable is of great value to all who believe, and inspires a halakhah (practice) of chesed (mercy). There is great depth of meaning to be plumbed in the surrounding culture, sociology and theology of this essential teaching. Therefore it’s good for us to take a deeper look at the hearers of the mashal and the characters that play out its meaning.
25 And an expert in the Torah (Instruction/Books of Moses) stood up and sought to prove Yeshua, saying, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life (Olam habah)?”
One of the dangers in translating this section of Scripture, is to bring an anti-Semitic bias to the Greek text. The questioner here is often labelled as one who seeks to entrap Yeshua, however the Greek text allows for a more natural Hebraic reading. It is in the nature and style of the Judaism of the first century, just as it is today, for an impromptu yeshivah (study/debate) to be initiated among learned people. This is the case here. The questioner is unsure as to Yeshua’s credentials and knowledge of the Torah and thus he rightly reserves judgement by calling Him, “teacher (didaskalos),” rather than, “Rabbi (rhabbi)”. The expert in the Torah (most likely a Pharisee because for the Sadducee there is no discussion of halakhah due to the fact that the Torah is the only inspired text and it’s literal meaning is the halakhah), is not trying to trap or disprove Yeshua, rather he is simply seeking to prove Him.
26 And Yeshua said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read (understand) it?”
The debate continues in a respectful rabbinic manner as Yeshua returns question for question and gives the Torah expert an opportunity to prove his own knowledge.
27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (Devarim/Deut 6:5), and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself (Vaiyekra/Leviticus 19:18).”
In fine rabbinic form the Torah expert answers using two primary texts from the Torah, that, while separated into different sections of the books of Moses, are none the less the product of the same Spirit. This is an insightful observation, one that commends him to Yeshua.
28 And Yeshua said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live (Beraysheet/Genesis 42:17-19).” (Devarim/ Deut 32:46-48)
Yeshua answers succinctly, quoting two key Scriptures of His own in agreement with what the Torah expert has proposed. The phrase, “Do this and you will live,” or, “By doing this you will find life,” is found in two very important places in the Torah. Note that Yeshua, Who is fond of quoting the prophets and in particular Isaiah, chooses to answer in the vernacular of His questioner, speaking to him from within his own subject of expertise.
Genesis 42:17-19New American Standard Bible (NASB) 17 So he put them all together in prison for three days. 18 Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God:19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households,
Joseph’s statement follows an allegorical period of three days matching the death and resurrection of Messiah and offers an avenue of repentant life to the house of Israel.
Deuteronomy 32:46-48New American Standard Bible (NASB) 46 he said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. 47 For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”
The instructions themselves are life and extend life. Thus, “Olam Haba/eternal life)”. In other words, Yeshua is saying, “You know what the Torah says, ‘these are not just words, you must walk in them in order to walk in their life’, which leads to eternal life.”
This answers the Torah expert’s question with a challenge. It’s not enough to have knowledge, he must also produce halakhah (action) that lives in that knowledge.
29 But wishing to show himself righteous, he said to Yeshua, “And who is my neighbour (rea – 1st Century transitional Hebrew: friend, fellow Israelite, person living in close proximity)?”
We shouldn’t be quick to judge the Torah expert, he is in fact asking a valid question for the time and his motivation is not unlike the motivation of any child trying to impress a father. It is worth considering that having heard the depth of wisdom in Yeshua’s voice he wanted to show himself worthy of conversation with one Who he perceives to be a greater expert than himself. The Hebrew language was going through a transitional period at this time in history and the Hebrew word, rea (neighbour) had a number of variant meanings, such as: friend, fellow Israelite, person living in close proximity.
Yeshua now takes the impromptu yeshivah into the realm of the mashal/parable/teaching story. The story may be made up, it may also be true; perhaps the Creator of the universe can make up a story and have it be literally true all in the same breath. Regardless, this is a story that teaches a powerful truth.
30 Yeshua replied saying, “A man was going down from Jerusalem (raining peace) to Jericho (fragrant mouth), and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And a priest (Sadusim/Sadducee) happened (meekree-random, by chance) to be going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite (Sadusim/Saduducee) also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Both the priest and the Levite are bound by the instructions concerning ritual uncleanness through association with the dead. Perhaps they thought that the man was dead? This is not an excuse for failing to check on him and help him. They are going down from Jerusalem, meaning that they had finished their temple service and were probably returning home. It is also important to understand that being Sadusim, they didn’t acknowledge the validity of the Oral Torah (Mishnah), which places the sanctity of life above all but the instruction to love and worship G-d alone.
33 But a Samaritan (Shomeron: to hedge about with protection), who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,
The Samaritan, like the Sadusim, accepted only the books of Moses as inspired and yet he was obviously reminded of the greater meaning of the Hebrew word rea (neighbour). The compassion or chesed he felt toward his fellow man, regardless of race, was inspired by the Spirit that wrote the Torah and is therefore an indictment against those who, having the Torah, refused to live by it.
34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own donkey, and brought him to a place of lodging and took care of him.
Some read symbolism into the oil and wine. If the hearers understood symbolism here (which is unlikely) they may have understand oil as a symbol of priestly anointing and the wine as a symbol of prosperity.
The plan meaning is more likely to be, “he cleansed the wounds with antiseptic (alcohol/wine) and sealed them with ointment/antibiotic salve (oil) and covered them (bandages) so that they wouldn’t get infected.
35 On the next day he took out two denarii (two days’ wages: a month’s stay) and gave them to the proprietor and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
This Samaritan not only helps the injured man in the short term, he also invests in his complete healing at great cost to himself. This is perhaps one of the minor aspects of the mashal that we often overlook. How great is our love for our neighbour? How far will we go?
36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And the Torah expert (P’rushim/Pharisee) said, “The one who showed mercy (chesed: grace, mercy) toward him.” Then Yeshua said to him, “Go and do the same.”
Notice the different emphasis in the question Yeshua asks. Formerly the Torah expert had asked, “Who is my neighbour,” meaning, “Who is a neighbour to me?” Now Yeshua places the emphasis on the subject, saying, “Which of these three showed himself to be a neighbour?” In other words, “You’re asking the wrong question, it’s not a case of who is a neighbour to you but how are you being a neighbour to others?” Add to this the fact that while the Torah expert is asking for a definition of the Hebrew rea (neighbour) that conveys one of its three possible contemporary meanings, Yeshua, being a good Jewish Rebbe Himself, poses a fourth possibility, “Everybody is your neighbour.”
The Torah expert answers correctly again, however he fails to name the Samaritan. Perhaps this is why Yeshua, rather than saying, “You have answered correctly.” says, “Go and do likewise.” In fact, Yeshua is repeating His former statement, “Do this and you will live,” or, “In these words you will find life.” In other words, “Do what the Torah requires, practice what you preach.”
I’m certain that the next time this Torah expert met Yeshua, he called Him Rabbi—My Great One.
© 2015 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.