Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Cross-Shaped Story of the Good Samaritan

Jesus tells this story to flesh out the Great Commandment. The Great Commandment is like a cross, with vertical and horizontal beams.

The verticle beam is love of God.

The horizontal beam is love of neighbor.

Some try to break the beams apart, reading the story to say that the horizontal beam of "good deeds" can somehow float in the air all by itself.

But that horizontal beam, love for neighbor, must be held up and anchored by the vertical beam, our love for God. We love because God first loved us. (I John 4:19) The parable of the Good Samaritan is explained most fully at the cross.

  • The Samaritan's goodness is "mercy." He comes to the help of a helpless man. He expends his own treasure without concern for the worthiness of the recipient. For Christians, this takes its meaning from the merciful love of God: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

  • The Samaritan is an enemy. He is to be kept out of the Holy City, where Priest and Levite serve. And so he represents Christ, who the Priests rejected and consigned to a cross outside their walls. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (Hebrews 13:12)

It is widely recognized that the church cannot represent God with an orthodoxy like that of the Priest and Levite, who ignored mercy to maintain a form of purity. They had a vertical beam with no arms reaching out. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (I Corinthians 13:2)

But we need to remember that the church does not represent God by churning out endless lists of causes and projects, which push God aside to enhance our own egos. This leaves us with a horizontal beam that just drops to the ground. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:3)

The Great Commandment must have both beams, our love made real in orthodox faith and in Christ-like action:

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:16)

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Wonderful meditation.

It is significant that the virtuous man is a hated Samaritan (an outsider like the Gentiles) while the Priest and the Levite miss their opportunity to fulfill the Greatest Law. This story was eschatologically fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple and the gathering in of the Gentiles.