Good Samaritan

Tensions in the Law

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 7:7-17 OR Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Law and land are themes running through this week’s lectionary readings. In Deuteronomy, Moses spells out the law for the Promised Land that the Israelite’s will soon inhabit. In Luke, Jesus discusses Torah and its interpretation with a young lawyer as he journeys to Jerusalem, a journey that requires many Israelites to pass through the land of the Samaritans, a people in dubious relation to the law. In Psalm 82, God is the great judge holding council with the gods of the nations.

As a member of a late modern society, I sense in myself a certain complacency with regard to the law of this land. Even dramatic cases of judicial corruption do not, I am sad to say, disrupt my complacency for long. ‘We’ve got checks and balances,’ I say to myself, ‘the system will right itself.’ In blinding us to corruption, our system may find a reflection in the system confronted by Amos. Amaziah, Jeroboam’s chief priest, becomes a recognizable image of an administrator of human justice. He seems well aware that, for the system to function, protocol must be maintained. And this protocol entails a kind of behavioral training for those who live in the system. Amos flouts the dispositions for the professional prophet with the disruptive tenor of his words. It is not for speaking falsehoods that Amaziah diplomatically tries to banish him to a place where his words can do little harm; it is because he threatens the stability of the kingdom.

So the surface issue of law hovers above a deeper, systematic condition. Law is underwritten by ideology: a symbolic order by which we justify frequently unjust ways of life. Read more

Unchained Word

Mark’s Jesus is in a hurry, John’s Jesus is in control, and Matthew’s Jesus does parables. Luke’s Jesus forever crosses borders. This time, the border lies between the boondocks of Galilee and the enemy’s homeland, Samaria.

Nathanael – or any right-thinking first century Palestinian Jew – needn’t ask if anything good comes from Samaria. One might as well spout nonsense about a “good Samaritan,” or a “good Al Qaeda.”

This week, the border also divides clean from unclean. Unlike the encounter in Luke 5, this text doesn’t mention Jesus touching lepers, but the precedent’s set, he’s in unclean territory already, and now there are ten of them.

When they beg for mercy, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” One of the ten, it turns out, is a Samaritan, whose reception by priests might be compared to CIA headquarters welcoming Osama bin Laden. Read more