Bailie on Luke 10:25-42

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of Luke”
Tape #6; Re: Luke 10:25-42

  • Luke 10:25-37 — The Parable of the Good Samaritan (belongs with story of Martha & Mary)
    • Rough parallel in Mark 12:28-34, “The Lawyer’s Question.” In Mark, a scribe asks Jesus for the first commandment, and Jesus answers and adds the second commandment about loving one’s neighbor. Luke, writing for a Hellenistic culture, changes it to a lawyer “testing” Jesus about eternal life.
    • The biblical tension (in much of Paul’s writings) is present in the lawyers question about “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” To inherit is a passive verb; one doesn’t do anything to inherit. You simply happen to be the heir. So the question is strange in implying that one does something to earn an inheritance. An inheritance comes unearned. It’s a legitimate tension, because the gospel requires us to do something. But it can be easily misinterpreted as being about a merit system. Paul wrote extensively that it’s not a merit system, and Luke was influenced by Paul.
    • Jesus returns the lawyers question with a question, which would have been a familiar Socratic method to the Hellenists.
    • The lawyer responds with the familiar two-part commandment.
    • Jesus simply agrees; he got the answer right. So go and do it. “Did you come to fish or cut bait?” Do it.
    • “Wanting to justify himself.” The need to justify oneself is a symptom of something. What? To return to a familiar theme: A symptom of the lack of “ontological mooring,” or “ontological density.” What is that talking about? The first part of the great commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, and soul. Those who do that have no need to justify themselves. And Paul says that you can only come to know the Lord as he is revealed by Christ. The very fact that the lawyer wants to justify himself means that his problem is with the first part of the commandment. But wanting to justify himself, he asked about the second part of the commandment. In other words, he’s just like a modern person, ignoring the first part of the commandment. We ignore the first part and think we can meet the requirement of the commandment by only meeting the second part. They go together. You can’t meet it by only meeting the first part, either. But this lawyer ignores the first part: “Who is my neighbor?”
    • So Jesus tells him a story. Reads and comments along the way:
      • “A man was going down…” Gr: anthropos tis which is generic.
      • “…down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” It’s a winding, mountainous road, that in the first century is a haven of criminals where they preyed on travelers…a treacherous place.
      • “…and he fell into the hands of robbers…” If this story, as it sometimes is painted to be, is simply about showing compassion on somebody who needs compassion, then you don’t need robbers at all, because the man could simply fall and break his leg. If you decide that you need robbers, then you don’t need more than one. All you need is one. We have to understand why this story is what it is; we have to see the structure: “robbers,” plural.
      • “…they stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half-dead.” There’s no indication of robbery here. What we have is violence. There’s implied robbery: if they stripped him, they robbed him. But it’s implied, not explicit. What’s explicit is that it was a terrible beating, a beating for which there is no reason if all they wanted to do was rob him.
      • What does it mean to be stripped and beaten? It means to have all ethno-cultural markers taken away. This takes us back to the earlier theme of ethnic conflict around the Jews and Samaritans (Luke 9:52-54). In the first century, both one’s ethnicity, and one’s socio-economic standing within that ethnic group, were largely determined by clothes. To be stripped is to be robbed of these markers. Again, if this is simply about showing compassion, all we need is somebody to come by and show no compassion and somebody who does. That’s not what we get. What we get is this:
      • “Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” We get a priest and a Levite. They “saw” him, but there’s still the question of whether they really saw him. In Luke’s gospel there’s this question about whether we really see Jesus. And it’s an epistemological question, not just a physical question. The priest and Levite see this man but don’t really see him in any way that’s morally or humanly significant.
      • “…pass by on the other side…” In other words, they literally scoot over to avoid him. Why? Priests and Levites were part of the sacrificial system. In order for them to participate in that system, they had to be undefiled — which meant not being contaminated in any way by a dead corpse. Their whole role in life is to conduct these rituals, so they’re constantly preoccupied with avoiding the things that would keep them from carrying out that role, and one of those things, an important one, was any contact with a corpse. This man is not dead, but he looks dead, and so caution suggests that they pass by on the other side of the road. They’re professionals.
      • It’s an extension of the problem with Jesus healing on the Sabbath: do we actually attend to people? Or do we pay attention primarily to these religious structures?
    • A footnote on the matter of death (that we can’t get into thoroughly):
      • Dread of going anywhere near the corpse goes all the way to the origins of the sacrificial cult itself. Ultimately, it goes back to the moment when the victim is lying there, and the victimizers ‘know’ that they cannot encroach on that sacred space. That’s the moment when the old sacred system comes into being. And avoiding corpses, as these two are doing, is simply a distant reverberation of that old sacralizing impulse.
      • What does that tell us? The bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death. One way of understanding that is death as a cultic fascination. The sacrificial system is fascinated by death, and it exists to move it around on the board to the best advantage of all. That is to say (quoting Caiaphas in John 11:50) “that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” The sacrificial system both serves death and it serves it up. It performs it in order to ward it off. Death is at the center of the whole sacrificial system. Ultimately, we have either the sacrificial system re-emerging and drawing all the fascination back to death, or we have the gospel breaking us free of that.
      • It’s interesting that in our world, as the Enlightenment project collapses, we get the emergence of nihilism, which is nothing more than the religious fascination with death and all of the cultic mystery of death. For example: Heidegger’s Being-unto-Death.
      • Quote from James Breech’s The Silence of Jesus, who says of the priest and Levite’s avoidance of the quasi-corpse: “Their avoidance confers sacral power unto death and implicitly recognizes it as the force which is ultimate in human life.”
      • Death, and avoiding death, will always be the organizing principle in any sacrificial system. That’s why, when St. Paul says “Death where is thy sting?”, he’s talking as someone who’s broken free of that. All these pieces need to reconciled, but when we start to put them all together we’ll realize what an incredible liberation the NT presents to us.
      • Sebastian Moore: “Death as ultimate horizon lets sin make as much sense as sin can make. Death is our god-displacer, our pseudo-god.” In the modern word, you get things that started out to be life, and then, suddenly, they’re something else.
      • Example (stated with caution, because he certainly doesn’t want to go back to some situation in which women are discriminated against): You get a situation in which a feminist movement comes along and doesn’t realize how indebted it is to the NT for its own moral promptings, and pretty soon its reigning principle is a mother’s right to kill the baby in the womb. It becomes death again. It starts out with the best of intentions.
      • Another example: In this morning’s New York Times Peter Steinfels first sentence in his religion column is: “Are euthanasia and assisted suicide about to become part of the liberal agenda?” He goes on to say, ‘Maybe so.’ The point is: it starts off with the best of intention, really and truly driven by a NT moral imperative, but because it cuts itself off from that moral imperative, it becomes death. It becomes Heideggerian, what Sebastian Moore calls our pseudo-god. Here ends the aside, from the priest and Levites moving to the other side of the road, which is just way of bowing before death, a way of capitulating to the power of death, as opposed to the opposite to what St. Paul says, “Death where is thy sting?”, or as opposed to what the Good Samaritan does. So back to the story.
    • Andrew McKenna says (Violence and Difference, p. 216): “It is as if most commentary emulates priest and Levite, drawing away from the centrality of the victim.” The story is about a victim. It’s not just about someone who fell and broke his leg. It’s not fundamentally a story about someone who suffered an economic deprivation at the hands of others, a robbery. It’s about someone who is beaten half-dead by a mob.
    • Reading and commenting continues:
      • “But a Samaritan while traveling came near him…” Perhaps you have to come near to see that he’s not dead. He needs help. The priest and the Levite didn’t want to come near out of fear of contamination. And the Samaritan: if this were a modern thing, we would immediately begin to wax romantic about how the Samaritan culture must be superior. It’s not true. The Samaritans are just as full of this stuff as the Jerusalem Jews. Jesus is not romanticizing the Samaritan culture. He’s telling it to his Jewish audience because for them, the Samaritans are the ones who will never get it, and he’s trying to break them out of there little ethnic enclave. You can’t really see what you need to see by staying locked in that enclave.
      • “and when he saw him, he was moved with pity….” This is the only moment in the story that could remotely be construed as psychological. It’s the story about a certain movement, an instinctive movement. When faced with a situation like this, are we concerned with ritual purity? Or are we automatically concerned with this one who needs help? The Samaritan behaved according to the gospel even though he had never heard it.
      • “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Oil and wine were tools of the sacrificial ritual and cult. (A number of commentaries bring this out.) So when Jesus asks about who is the neighbor and the lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy,” “mercy” is a loaded term. It brings into consideration the whole problem of the sacrificial cult. The prophets say that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. Why is the Samaritan carrying oil and wine? The priest and the Levite no doubt had some with them, or else they had some where they were going. They used it in the sacrificial cult. And what does the Samaritan do with his? He pours them into the wound of the victim. It’s an absolutely magnificent narrative version of the prophets saying, “God wants mercy and not sacrifice.”
    • Poem by e.e. cummings (based on the Good Samaritan)


  • Luke 10:38-42 — Martha and Mary
    • If all we had was the Good Samaritan story, we might conclude that all we have to deal with is the second part of the great commandment, because that’s all that’s dealt with there. That all we need to do is to go out and take care of everybody. Remember: this whole thing started with the great commandment, the first part of which was, “Love the Lord your God with all you mind, heart, and soul.” And that wasn’t dealt with at all.
    • Luke has the habit of telling stories in diptych, and often one will be about a man and then the other a woman. Here we have a story about a woman. In order to appreciate it, we have to realize that it’s going back to what was left out in the Good Samaritan story, which is the first part of the great commandment. (Not brought out in the commentaries he read.)
    • Reads and comments:
      • “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha….” “a woman.” Gr: gyna tis. Remember anthropos tis. A man, a woman. We have to see the diptych.
      • “…a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.” Sitting at Lord’s feet and listening to his word are technical phrases in first-century Christianity. It marks discipleship. It’s also about simply receiving, going back to Mary, who let it be done unto herself according to God’s word. If the Good Samaritan was the only story, we’d say that we have to go out and do all these goods things. Do the good work.
      • “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” The word for “tasks” here is the word for serving. She was distracted by her serving.
      • “…so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.'” There’s a comic element. There’s a house and Martha’s in the kitchen, so to speak. In the other room are two people, Jesus and her sister. Who is Martha thinking about? Who is she pre-occupied with? This is the problem. It’s the problem of transcendence. Jesus is there to bring transcendence into her life, and she is completely preoccupied with whether or not Mary is going to help her.
      • The Greek word for “help” here is a complex term that literally means something like, “take with over against.” The implication etymologically is, “Here’s a table that’s too big for me to lift; I need somebody on the other end.” St. Paul uses this same term when talking about the Holy Spirit helping us in our prayer. The Holy Spirit will be the Other. Jesus will be the Other. This isn’t only about chores. It’s about selfhood. The self is always going to have this Other over there. And the question is, “Who’s it going to be?” We are Martha faced with the question, “Who’s it going to be, Mary or Jesus?” “Who’s it going to be, our sister, someone in our own social environment, or Jesus?” The question is who’s going to be the constituting Other in your life? For Mary, it’s Jesus. For Martha, it’s Mary. The whole problem is right there.
      • “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha…'” Calling her name twice. It’s like he’s calling her back. It’s like the prophets, “I was called…” He’s trying to call her to her grounding. She’s lost in the horizontal plane of unstable activities.
      • “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.'” We have to read this in terms of the first part of the great commandment. We have, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” And we also have Jesus’ earlier words (Luke 10:22), “‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.'” In order to love the Lord your God with all your being, one goes to Jesus to learn about that God, which is what Mary does.
      • Quote from John Donahue’s commentary on the parables: “Perhaps one of the reasons that generations of Christians have found the Parable of the Good Samaritan so consoling to narrate, and so impossible to imitate, is that they are too busy being Samaritans to listen to the Word with silent attentiveness. Nor do they experience that freedom possessed by the outsider who has so little to lose that only eternal life can be found.” The Good Samaritan is about having the freedom to serve as he did. The Martha and Mary story is about how one arrives at such freedom, the first part of the great commandment. As the result of that ontological mooring, one is free to do what the Good Samaritan did. If we turn the Good Samaritan story into simply a moral exhortation on doing good in the world, and avoid its relationship to the first part of the great commandment, then we create precisely the kind of Enlightenment liberalism which is collapsing in our day. And its too bad that it’s collapsing because we need to be doing those good things in the world, but the goose that laid the golden egg of those good works is the first part of the great commandment. As soon as we forget that, then those good works will begin to become overtaken by a strange form of nihilism which we see creeping into our world today.

Notes by Paul Nuechterlein

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