Political conventions are the World Series of politics. For four days, national delegates are immersed in a matrix of politics and policy, celebrity-gazing and camaraderie, late nights and early mornings.
The highlights of the convention, the major speeches seen on television, show us each time the centrality and power of the spoken word. In ancient Greece and Rome, rhetoric and oratory were major subjects of study. A Roman politician worth his salt had to be able to speak in public. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were both noted for their speech-making as well as their war-making.
Day one got off to a raucous start for the Democrats, but the ship righted itself quickly and the first evening went off without a hitch. More than that, it inspired, it moved, it united, and it cheered Democrats who (finally) got to tell their story.
The biggest part of that story was the speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders. The agenda of that first evening was to accent the progressive wing of the party, closing with a speech from the current leader of that wing. His speech was all that the Clinton campaign could have wanted. His endorsement was full-throated. He discouraged his "Bernie or bust" supporters. High marks should also go to Sarah Silverman, who seemed to put the shouters in their place; anyway, it got a little quieter after she told them they were being "ridiculous".
Sen. Sanders spent most of his speech pushing for his issues--the banks, free tuition, minimum wage--with which most delegates mostly agree, and which is now written in the party platform. Hillary and Bernie worked out this out pretty much flawlessly. He got what he wanted--his biggest issues in the party platform, and respect for his movement--and she got what she wanted: Bernie on the team 100%. (If the Democrats take the Senate, Bernie may suddenly become a very prominent Senator, especially in a Democratic administration.)
The platform was an easy "give" for Hillary. Nobody pays much attention to party platforms. I always think of the story about Robert Kennedy who was trying to decide whether or not to run in 1968. Arthur Schlesinger said that he should not run, and should instead push for an anti-war plank in the party platform. RFK reportedly said, "Arthur, when was the last time millions of people rallied to a platform?"
Still, party platforms aren't entirely irrelevant. They signal a direction, and, in this case, the platform is a reflection of the progressive wing of the party being in the ascendant. In the past, the most progressive candidate would get about one-fourth of the Democratic primary vote. Bernie pushed that up to 42%. Plus, Hillary pretty much agrees with Bernie herself. Bernie's candidacy pushed her to the left, as predicted, but she didn't have to be drug kicking and screaming. Hillary has been for a "public option" in health care since 1993. She's a progressive too.
The nation got a preview of a some day presidential candidate in Sen. Cory Booker, one of the Democratic Party's best orators. His stirring speech riffed on Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," and set the stage nicely for Michelle Obama. The First Lady's inspiring and poetic speech included a truly impressive endorsement of Hillary. She'd trust Hillary with her kids! Portions of the First Lady's are already oft-quoted on Facebook. Michelle rocked the house two weeks in a row!
President Bill Clinton has been a featured speaker at Democratic conventions since 1988. While his 1988 speech was one of his worst, his 2016 speech was one of his best. He started off in an unusual way--no paeans to the crowd, no thanking anyone, no mention of distinguished dignitaries--and launched into the story of their relationship. "In the spring of 1971, I met a girl..." This story went on for quite awhile.
Then, just when you were wondering where he was going with all of this, he spoke of "the real Hillary" versus the "made up" one. The lengthy build-up was necessary to the point: The person he talked about was the real Hillary, and the person talked about at the GOP convention was a "cartoon."
Some commentators didn't like the speech--too long, said one; all that relationship business wasn't feminist, said another. But Joy Reid called it, almost to her surprise, as "kind of genius." He submerged his own centrality to the story and made Hillary the center. He told stories that even long time Clinton supporters didn't know. He encouraged those on the fence to take a second look at someone they thought they knew, but really didn't.
He has completely grey hair now, and wrinkles on his face, but when it comes to touching the heart of an issue and relating it to real life, he's still the master.
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Translation: Someone out of the crowd said to him, "Teacher, speak to my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who placed me judge or divider over you?" And he said to them, "See and guard from all greed, for someone's life is not in the abundance of possessions."
And he said a parable to them, saying, "The region of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he was reasoning in himself, saying, 'What might I do, for I do not have a place where I will store my fruits.' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and I will build greater. And there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my life, 'Life, you have many goods laid up into many years. Rest, eat, drink, be merry.'
But God said to him, 'Fool. This night your life is demanded from you, and the things you have, whose will they be?' This (is) the one laying up treasures for himself and not being rich into God.'"
Background and situation: The passage appears only in Luke. Following last week's lection on prayer (11:1-13), Jesus is speaking to a crowd (11:14) whose number is increasing (11:29). Is this one of Luke's subtle ways of saying the "Jesus movement" is gaining momentum as it continues toward Jerusalem?
Oddly, a pharisee interrupts Jesus (11:37) and abruptly invites Jesus to dinner. Jesus attends the dinner and--rather impolitic of him--delivers a harsh denunciation of pharisees and scribes (11:38-54), which angered the pharisees and turned them against Jesus.
Outside, meanwhile, the crowd continues to gather. It now numbers in the thousands (12:1), but, before speaking to the crowds, Jesus speaks only to the disciples. From 12: 1b-12, Jesus cautions the disciples to "beware the yeast of the pharisees, which is their hypocrisy."
The language indicates a contentious environment. The Jesus movement will become public--"what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops"--but the situation at present is dire. The disciples may suffer bodily harm. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to be absolutely loyal. They will receive divine guidance when they face the authorities.
Question on inheritance: "Someone in the crowd" interjects with a question. He addresses Jesus as "teacher," and wants Jesus to tell his brother to give him his inheritance.
Questions regarding inheritance were addressed in the Hebrew tradition (Num 27:1-11, and others), and it was not improper for a rabbi to render an opinion on the issue. Presumably, the man making the request is the younger brother. In Hebrew society of that time, the oldest brother would inherit the lion's share of his father's estate.
This younger brother seems to assume that Jesus would decide in his favor. Perhaps the man has been listening to Jesus' egalitarian sermons and supposes that family inheritances should be treated in a similarly egalitarian way.
Jesus responds by saying that he is not in a position to render a judgment. "Man (anthropos)," he says, "who placed me judge or divider over you?" Then, he issues a exhortation on the subject of greed--"see and watch from all greed, for someone's life is not in the abundance of possessions."
The latter clause in that statement is particularly difficult to translate. Literally, by word order, the phrase would read something like this: "not in the abundance, a certain one, his life, is out of his possessions" (huparcho). (Think that's clunky? Try this one by Schmidt, cited by Joel Green: "(it is) not while one has abundance (that) life is his--(it does not) come from his possessions.")
Huparcho is formed from archon with the prefix hupo. Literally, it would mean something like "upon beginning" or "upon first," and is typically translated to mean "start" or "to begin." It refers to "the original state of existence", what one "possesses" from the beginning, which is how it came to mean "possessions."
Warming to the subject of greed, Jesus then proceeds to a parable regarding "a certain rich man" (anthropos). Luke uses anthropos both to describe the man making the request regarding inheritance and the rich man in the parable, thereby making a subtle connection between the two.
Parable of the rich fool: The "region" of a rich man "brought forth plentifully." In other words, the increase in production wasn't because the rich man was such a great agriculturalist, but because it was a good crop year in that locale. The whole region produced. Credit should go to God.
The situation of abundance prompts an internal dialog in the man. (Indeed, the word is dielogizeto, where we get our word "dialog.") He has so much produce that his existing barns aren't big enough to contain it. This means that he will be storing, and not selling, his crop.
With a bumper crop throughout the region, the price is probably depressed. Why sell now? Why not build a bigger barn, store the produce, and sell next year when crops might not be so plentiful and their market price will be higher?
Jesus was telling this story, keep in mind, in a world where 90% of the people lived at the level of bare subsistence. A big landowner with big barns holding "much goods" is not likely to generate much sympathy in a world where many people were losing what little land they had and many others were driven into destitution and homelessness.
The rich man talks only to himself, and, for Luke, thinks only of himself. He takes no thought of his neighbors, nearly all of whom are peasants. It wasn't that long ago (10: 25-37) that Jesus had lauded care for one's neighbor. Here, none are considered.
Rather comically, he says, "I will say to my life, 'Life'." Today, the expression "I will say to myself, Self"--the same thing the rich farmer said--is something of a cross between a lame joke and a lame cliche. (Do a google search on the expression, and you get 304,000,000 hits.) The man is not only talking to himself, he's actually addressing himself, as if he were outside his own body. He's not only disconnected from his neighbors, he's also detached from his own self!
Incidentally, the Greek word here for "life" or "self" is psyche. (We get our word "psychology" from it.) It is often translated as "soul" (NRSV) which is technically correct, I suppose, but translate it that way and you unwittingly bring in the baggage of Greek philosophy with it. The Hebrews didn't believe in body/soul dualism. The Greeks did.
For the Hebrews, and thus, also for Jesus, a person was a whole person, and could not be broken up into parts. Yes, they did speak of mind, heart, will--even soul. These, however, were aspects of a person, not divisible entities. In any case, the Hebrews used "soul" in the same sense as "heart," i.e. as the psychological and spiritual center of the one whole person.
The Greeks, on the other hand, conceived of the "soul" as something distinct from the body. The "soul" was a spiritual entity and had true value. The body did not. The body was a mere mortal shell, of no lasting consequence. In fact, thought the Greeks, it was disgusting that something so dang wonderful as a "soul" had to put up with being in this rattle-trap insult of a body.
The Hebrews would never have said anything so ridiculous. They had a much higher view of the body and the material world. Translating psyche as "soul" recalls Plato, not Jeremiah, and Athens, not Jerusalem. Therefore, in my view, "life"--or even "self"--is a better translation.
So the dude is set. He has many goods laid up for many years, and he can "rest, eat, drink, be merry"--not that that's a bad thing, incidentally. It is, after all, the position of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes (8:15). Life is hard. Enjoy yourself when you can.
God, however, calls him a "fool." He's not a "bad" man, you understand, but rather a blockhead, a nitwit. The reason he's a fool is not because he's enjoying himself, but rather because he's going to die in just a few hours--"this night your life is demanded (apaitousin) from you."
Apaiteo means "required back." God gave the man life in the first place, just as God gave the increase in produce throughout the land. Now, God is "requiring it back." Turns out the rich man, for all his self-centered strategizing, doesn't run his own life after all. And his "many goods"? God says out loud what everybody should know already: "Hey, you can't take it with you."
In terms of financial and economic sense, however, it's hard to argue with the rich man's position. The decision to build bigger barns is entirely reasonable, even smart. Bigger storage makes it easier to both play and manipulate the market.
Yet, God calls him a "fool." His foolishness is not in his attempt to "be merry," though, frankly, such an effort can't mean much for a person who is so divorced from human connection. Doesn't it take at least two to tango?
No, the man is a fool because, in pursuit of profits in the market, he has acted in disregard for his neighbors. Yes, the market has considerable power. It is able to deliver "many goods." It turns out, however, that the market is not God. All life comes from God who may "require it back" at any time.
Therefore, in discerning whether one should place their interest in their own self-advancement, or the needs of their neighbors, it might be prudent to consider God's opinion on the matter.
Image: Parable of the rich fool, Jim Janknegt
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Translation: And it happened, as he was praying in a certain place, just as he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say, 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Our bread, the super-substantial, give to us each day. And release our sins, for we ourselves release everyone who is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.'"
And he said to them, "A certain one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and might say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread for my friend has come near to me from a journey and I have nothing which I will set before him.' And that one within answered (and) might say, 'Do not give me trouble. Even now, the door has been shut and my children are with me in bed. I am not able to get up and give to you.' I say to you, if he will not rise and give to him through being his friend, yet through his shamelessness, he will rise and give as much as he needs.
And I say to you, 'Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking will receive, the one seeking will find, and to the one knocking, (it) will be opened. But what father among you, if a children will ask bread, will not give upon him a stone, or if a fish, will he, for a fish, give him a snake? Or, he will ask an egg, he will not give to him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know good gifts to give to your children, how much more the Father, the one out of heaven, will give the Holy Spirit to the ones asking him."
Background and situation: Part of the lection is from Q--specifically, vss. 2-4 and 9-10. (See Matthew 6: 7-13 and Matthew 7: 7-11.)
This text is a major rejoinder to the old idea that Mark is derivative from Matthew and Luke, as some have said. This theory says that Matthew was written first, followed by Luke. Mark is a later condensation of the two books. If this were really so, it seems passing strange that Mark would leave the Lord's Prayer out of his abridgment.
Our text follows upon chapter 10, which told of the mission of the 70/72, Jesus' rejoicing, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the story of Mary and Martha. Common themes of this section include hospitality, anxiety, and the "father-hood" of God.
In regard to the latter, see especially 10:22, which feels almost Johannine in its description of the relationship between Father and Son: "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."
The Lord's Prayer in Luke: Jesus is often praying in Luke (3.21, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 11:1). One of his disciples waits until he is finished to ask that his disciples might be taught a prayer along lines already modelled by John the Baptist and his disciples. In making this ask, the disciple properly addresses Jesus as "Lord."
John's disciples were known for certain practices, such as prayer and fasting (5:33). These practices served as markers for their identity as John's followers. Here, the (unnamed) disciple is requesting that Jesus' followers be similarly taught in regard to prayer. (It has been obvious for some time that Jesus' followers don't fast as John's did.) (7:34)
What follows is Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. In 10:22, Jesus had said that only he knows the identity of the Father and that he himself is the one who chooses to whom he reveals this. Now, he instructs the disciples on how to relate to the Father in prayer.
Curiously, then, Luke does not begin the prayer with "Our Father," but simply "Father." Perhaps not having yet been instructed, the disciples are not quite ready to say "our". Or, perhaps Luke is resisting any impulse to express some kind of propriety rights over God. God doesn't belong to us, after all. He is not "ours" in that sense. Quite the contrary.
The Old Testament does not speak often of God as "Father," though there are a few references of note (Dt 32:6, Is 63:16, Is 64: 8, Jer 31:9). The image of "father" not only evokes origins, but also speaks of protection and care for the household.
The Aramaic word for "father" is abba. Abba is translated into Greek as pater. Abba is not, as some have said, an especially intimate reference for "father." It simply means "father." In other words, it does not mean "daddy." (The New Testament is not an overly-sentimental parent's idea of a childrens' book.)
After the greeting, those who pray are to express reverence for the name of God--"hallowed be your name". (See Ex 20:7.) The name of God used in this prayer is "Father." In other words, the prayer is to the One identified as "Father," not the One identified as YHWH or Elohim.
Since "Father" is not only a title, but also a word of relationship--a "father" is a "father" in relationship to his children--it would not be too much to say that this relationship is to be considered "holy" to those children who pray it. Prayer is not about bowing and scraping to a heirarch--(though bowing and scraping to God the Father never hurt anyone either). The simple act of prayer, talking with the Father, is itself an affirmation of that relationship.
Rather than the lengthier version in Matthew--"your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"--Luke simply has "your kingdom come" (elthato he basileia sou). This has nothing to do with waiting around for heaven to show up. It has to do with the "reign of God" coming to earth. Even though Luke does not replicate Matthew's longer statement, the idea of God's reign coming to full expression on earth is the clear content of "your kingdom come." Come where, if not here?
"Our bread, the super-substantial, give to us each day." This verse is difficult because the meaning of epiousion is not clear. The word is formed from ousia, which every seminary student knows means "substance," to which is added the prefix epi, which means "upon."
This word does not appear prior to the New Testament. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he used the clunky phrase "super-substantial" to translate it, as have I, simply because I can't think of another way to say "substance upon" or "over substance."
Other possible meanings include: "daily," "bread for the coming day," "sustaining bread," or that which is necessary. If indeed the meaning is "bread for the coming day"--or even "super-substantial bread"--the meaning may refer to the coming kingdom, as if saying, "Let us participate in the bread of the coming kingdom now." Sounds (possibly) eucharistic.
"And release our sins, for we ourselves release everyone who is indebted to us." The word is aphes, which is normally translated as "forgiveness." The word means "release" or "letting go." "Forgiveness of sins" is a major emphasis in Luke (1:77, 3:3, 5:20-21, and many others).
The rest of the petition doesn't say what you think it does. The petition asks that our sins be forgiven, and notes that those who pray this prayer are already forgiving the debts (opheilo) of others. Release of sins is paired with release of debt.
The petition is not a quid pro quo. It is not that we forgive others their debts, and, therefore, God is obligated to forgive our sins as a reward.
The cycle of debt in first century Israel was devastating to the people. When the Romans conquered the region, they claimed they owned all the land and promptly started charging people rent. People who, heretofore, were living and farming their own land found themselves burdened with debt. Debt was a way in which the conquerors continued to afflict the conquered.
In forgiving the debts of others, the followers of Jesus reject the power to coerce others. "Release" of debt was a way of living out the reign of God on earth. Forgiving others, both sins and debts, is a sign of the coming kingdom. Disciples who do so "get it," and they request the same from the Father.
"And bring us not into temptation." The word translated as "temptation" is peirasmon, the meaning of which, in this context, is uncertain. The NRSV has "the time of testing," though Joel Green notes that the absence of the definite article in Greek makes this unlikely. "Temptation" or "testing" seems to be the sense of the passage.
The issue is additionally confused because people don't like to think that God would deliberately make life more difficult. Life is tough enough as it is! Yet, God did test both Abraham and Job. The sense of the petition seems to be that God not make life any more difficult than it already is: "Dear God, don't give us more than we can bear."
The Parable: Verses 5-8--the parable of the friend (philon) at midnight--is unique to Luke. You have a friend. Your friend goes to his neighbor, whom he also considers a friend, to tell him about yet another friend who has arrived at his house late after a journey. (The word "friend" is used four times in four verses.)
The second friend has nothing to feed his guest. This would have been an hospitality crisis in the first century middle-eastern world. He goes to his neighbor-friend and asks for some food. It is late, however, and the man's neighbor-friend has already gone to bed and pleads that his children are nestled all snug in the same bed. (The neighbor-friend is probably a peasant living in a simple home, perhaps only one room.)
The situation is almost comical. No friend would refuse to help a friend in a hospitality crisis by saying it was too much trouble to roll out of bed. This layabout won't do the simplest chore for his friend, who was in a real dilemma.
He will do it eventually, however, because of "shamelessness" (anaideia). (NRSV has "persistence"; KJV "importunity". "Shamelessness" is better. "Not-shame" would probably be better.)
The pronouns are unclear in this verse. Is it the "shamelessness" in regard to the person who made the request? Or, is it the "shamelessness" of sleepy-head? There is no "not-shame" in making the request, though it does get a bit borderline if the request is late-night. Still, not being able to properly receive a guest is very nearly a community crisis. The man is not out of line in asking for help.
That leaves the man in bed. He will get up and help not because of friendship, but because he will look bad if he doesn't. His honor is at stake. The sense of the story is that even a sluggard will eventually do the right thing if for no other reason than that it's in his interest to do so. How much more, then, will God respond to prayer and entreaty from his people?
Indeed, the question of honor confronts God as surely as it does this sleeping neighbor. This is God's world, after all, and look what's happened to it. Back in the fourth century, Athanasius wrote that the situation was something like a city whose king was absent. While the king was gone, the devil came and occupied the city. The question is: What's the king--God--going to do about it? That city is his city, but he has been usurped. His honor is at stake.
Exhortations: Verses 9-13 are parallel to Matthew 7:7-11. In Matthew, these verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here, they reinforce points already made. God will indeed respond. Therefore, ask, seek, knock on God's door at any time. What is notable about these verses is the striking note of universality. Everyone asking will receive.
The closing two verses also sound a note of similarity with the parable. In the parable, God is compared to a sleepy neighbor--how much more will God respond than this sleepy-head! In the final two verses, God is compared to a human father. If human fathers give good gifts to their children, how much more will God do?
Where the human father gives "good gifts", however, God the Father gives "the Holy Spirit." The Spirit is palpable in Luke. Whenever you see the phrase "in the power of the Holy Spirit," it's a fair bet that the citation is from Luke.
The stunning conclusion is that the disciples' future is now tied to that of Jesus himself. As Jesus received the Holy Spirit (3:21-22), so will his followers.
Image: Thank you for our daily bread, Hiroko Reaney
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Translation: And it happened, as they were going, he entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha gladly received him into the house. And she had a sister named Miriam, who was sitting down beside the feet of the Lord and was listening to his word. And Martha was being distracted concerning much service, and she went and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me alone to serve? Then speak to her that she might help me." And the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled concerning much, and one thing is a necessity. For Mary picked out the good part which will not be taken away from her."
This lection carries the only reference to Mary and Martha in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). The two sisters and their brother, Lazarus, figure prominently in the fourth gospel, but, other than in these four verses, not at all in the synoptics. Who were these mysterious people?
The woman who anointed Jesus prior to his crucifixion (Matthew 26: 6-13, Mark 14: 3-9, John 12: 1-7)--or in the house of Simon (Luke 7: 36-50)--is identified by name only once, as Mary of Bethany in John 12. In the seventh century, Pope Gregory said that all these women were actually one individual: Mary Magdalene. If Gregory was right, then Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are same person. On the other hand, Gregory might not have been right.
Martha and Mary: Since 9:51, Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem. He is continuing his travel, and is accompanied by an entourage--"as they were going."
The entourage enters a "certain village." We are given no geographical markers in the story. The home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is identified as Bethany in the fourth gospel. Bethany is 7 miles from Jerusalem. (Perhaps Luke did not name the village because he didn't want Jesus to get this close to Jerusalem this quickly. There is more traveling to be done.)
Jesus is met by Martha who "gladly received" him. The word is hupodexomai. Previously (9:53, 10:8), the simpler dexomai appears and is normally translated as "welcome." This is hupodexomai, which is welcome on an extra level of magnitude. The word indicates welcome with affection and warmth: "to receive to one's self with evident favour and kindness."
In contrast to his first reception in gentile (8:37) and Samaritan (9:53) regions, which were markedly chilly, Martha gets this one right. The way to receive Jesus is to gladly receive him.
"She had a sister named Miriam (Mary)." (There is a subtle emphasis (tede) on Martha here which would be difficult to translate into English--perhaps instead of "she" one might offer "this Martha.") In any case, "this Martha's" sister, Mary, "was sitting down beside the Lord's feet."
The word "Lord" is mentioned three times in four verses. Luke wants us to know that whatever is going to happen here happens in the context of Jesus' lordship. Mary's posture indicates recognition, adoration, and submission.
Her piety, however, was not the problem. The problem was that she "was listening to his word." (The verbs are in the imperfect, meaning she was continuing to sit and to listen.) In the first century, rabbis did not teach women. Outside of being instructed in their proper gender roles according to custom and law, women received no education.
Martha, meanwhile, was "distracted concerning much service"--periespato peri pollen diakonian. Let's reconsider that "they" of verse 38--"as they were going". How many of them were there? Does this still include the 70/72 who went out on mission and returned? If so, then Martha has a legitimate gripe. Even whipping up some "mac and cheese" would be challenge if you have 72 people who suddenly show up for dinner.
Martha goes to the Lord, and accuses him of not caring--"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me alone to serve?" Mr. Compassion himself is not caring? What's more, "serving" (diakonein) is quite often lauded in Luke's gospel (22: 26-27). One could argue that the Jesus movement is about service to others, and that Martha has learned this lesson well.
Thus, Martha is not entirely off-base by suggesting (or whining) that she doesn't have enough help in serving. In fact, she seems to assume that Jesus would agree her. "Then speak to her that she might help me," she says, in the imperative.
Jesus acknowledges her concern--"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled concerning much." Yet, "only one thing is a necessity." This verse has some textual variants. Some manuscripts have "there is need of few things, or one," which may refer to a simpler meal. Martha should not have tried to put out such a large spread. Stick with mac and cheese!
This interpretation seems quite unlikely, however. The contrast Jesus draws is between "much (service)" and "one thing" which is a "necessity". That "one thing" would be "listening to his word." In "listening to his word," Mary has "picked out the good part." (If that "one thing" referred merely to serving a single dish, then Jesus would be lauding Mary for bailing on Martha.)
Martha makes a legitimate case about needing help. There were, however, a couple of problems. Yes, serving is encouraged and follows naturally from following Jesus. This serving, however, is not drudgery, and is not to be accompanied by anxiety, distraction, worry, and trouble.
Secondly, Martha goes awry in trying to enlist Jesus to get her sister to conform to traditional gender role expectations. In the context of that time--and ours--one might simply have assumed that of course Mary should be helping. Serving meals is womens' work, after all.
Jesus won't go there. In her revolutionary action of ditching her expected gender role of "helping in the kitchen" and instead sitting and listening to Jesus, Mary has shown pluck and courage, and Jesus--the Lord!--backs her up.
Image: Martha and Mary, Ain Vares.
25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He 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.35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Translation: And behold, a certain lawyer stood testing him, saying, "Teacher, what do I do to inherit eternal life?" But he said to him, "What has been written in the law? How do you read?" But he answered (and) said, "You will love the Lord your God out of all your heart, and in all your life, and in all your power, and in all your thought, and your neighbor just as yourself." And he said to him, "You answered rightly. Do this and you will live."
But he, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Taking up in thought, Jesus said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem into Jericho, and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and struck him (and) left, leaving (him) half-dead. But by chance, a certain priest was going down that way. Seeing him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise, a levite happened to the place. He came, and seeing, he passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, journeying, came to him, and seeing, he was moved with compassion. He came and bound his wounds, pouring oil and wine. And sitting him upon his own beast, he brought him to an inn and took care of him. And on the morrow, he threw out two denarii, gave to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him, and, whatever more you might spend, I myself will give you upon my return.' Which of these three, do you think, came to be neighbor of the man who fell to robbers?" And he said, "The one doing mercy to him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and you do likewise."
Background and situation: The source for part of the text is Markan (12:28-33). (The Matthean parallel is Matthew 22: 35-38.)
The parable of the compassionate Samaritan is a Lukan addition. The Markan core focuses on the Great Commandment, "love your neighbor as yourself". Luke uses that portion as a springboard into the parable.
In terms of its placement within Luke, the text follows upon the mission of the 70/72 (1-20) and Jesus' rejoicing and prayer of thanks (21-24). The lawyer's approach and questions occur in the presence of the 70/72 and possibly others as well.
One should keep in mind Deuteronomy 6:5--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might"--as well as Leviticus 19 and Leviticus 21. Leviticus 19:18 contains the injunction to "love your neighbor as yourself." In Leviticus 19:34, the "alien" is included: "you shall love the alien as yourself."
For the latter portion of the reading, see Leviticus 21: 1-3: no priest "shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives." Consider also Daniel 12:2 for the first use of the phrase "eternal life."
Loving God with your mind: Jesus had been exulting with the 70/72 at the return of their mission (21-24) when a lawyer (nomikos) approaches Jesus. Typically, the word "scribes" is used instead of "lawyer." Indeed, the Markan source calls the person a "scribe." (Matthew (22:35) changed this to "lawyer," the only use of "lawyer" in Matthew's gospel.)
Luke refers to lawyers six times. The scribes--scriptural lawyers, you might say--had been Temple-based. With the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the scribes lost their position. At the time of Luke's writing, c. AD 85, the "scribes" had probably evolved into "lawyers."
Then, as now, the presence of a lawyer indicates that complications are about to arise. Lawyers worry about exactitude and the definition of terms. Luke tells us that the lawyer is "testing" Jesus with his question about how to attain "eternal life." The concept of "eternal life" was rather new within Judaism--see Daniel 12--and was frequently debated in the time of Jesus.
Jesus responds warily. He wants to know where the lawyer is coming from. "What has been written in the law?" he asks of one who should know. "What do you read?" The lawyer responds with the shema, the classic statement of Hebrew faith from Deuteronomy 6: "You will love the Lord your God in all your heart, and in all your life, and in all your power, and your neighbor just as yourself."
Except that the lawyer changes the text slightly, a change which is common in the New Testament. The additional phrase is en hole te dianoia sou--"in all your mind," or perhaps "in all your thinking." That phrase was not in the original shema, but is commonly included in the four gospels. It is not uncommon for Jesus to encourage thinking (12:57) as he will do here shortly (10:36).
In his recitation, the lawyer includes loving one's neighbor as one's self. Today, some worry about whether or not we love ourselves enough. If you're going to love your neighbor as yourself, then, dagnabbit, doesn't that presuppose that a person should love themselves? The early Hebrews would have considered that concern to be ridiculous. It was axiomatic that a person would love themselves. (It would take considerable intellectual gymnastics to make the parable of the compassionate Samaritan into a story about loving yourself.)
Loving your neighbor: Loving your neighbor was not part of the original shema, but has roots in the penteteuch nonetheless (Lev 19:18). Strictly speaking, though the lawyer was wondering about how to get "eternal life," his answer, while good, does not specifically promise it. Deuteronomy 6 associated the shema with being "in the right" (6:25) and having life go well (6:18), but did not promise "eternal life." Likewise, though Leviticus 19 encouraged love toward one's neighbor and toward resident aliens, no specific promise is attached to it.
"Love God and love your neighbor," says the lawyer. Jesus is encouraged by the lawyer's response. Indeed, he could hardly have put it better himself. "You have answered rightly," Jesus says. "Do this and you will live."
The lawyer, predictably, wants a definition of terms. Just who, exactly, is my neighbor? The question was appropriate. The word translated as "neighbor" is plesion, which literally means "one who is near." For Deuteronomy 6, a neighbor was a member of the tribe of Israel or a resident alien. The lawyer asks, "Just how far are we supposed to go with this 'neighbor' business'?"
He asked this because he wanted to "justify himself"--thelone dikaiosai eauton. The phrase is a red-flag for all readers steeped in reformation thought where it is severe theological error to think that anyone can justify themselves. We must consider the possibility that this lawyer, sharp though he may be, has not read Luther. Perhaps the phrase simply means that the lawyer was wanting to be correct. This would have been important for the lawyer who must maintain his reputation and intellectual standing.
The parable of the compassionate Samaritan: Jesus takes the question of neighbor seriously. He "took it up in thought" (upolambano). He then speaks of an unidentified person who "goes down" from Jerusalem (elevation 2500 feet) to Jericho (elevation -800 feet). The route is a windy, treacherous one, ideal for lestes, i.e. robbers, brigands, revolutionaries. Sure enough, the man is met with violence. He is stripped, beaten, and left for dead.
Jesus then introduces three more characters. First, a priest passes by, but does not help. In consideration of Leviticus 21: 1-3, perhaps he was afraid of ritual defilement by touching a dead person. The man, however, was not dead, but "half-dead" (hemithane). Perhaps the priest was worried about being late for his duties at the Temple--except that it appears the priest was going from Jerusalem, not to it.
Then, Jesus introduces a Levite, who, just like the priest, "came," then "seeing," "passed by on the other side." Levites were members of the house of Levi, the only one of Jacob's sons not to receive land when Joshua brought the tribes across the Jordan River. Instead, the Levites would perform priestly and religious duties--"the Lord God of Israel himself is their inheritance" (Josh 13:33). Moses was of the tribe of Levi.
So far, Jesus' listeners would probably have liked this story. Then, as now, there was some grassroots resistance to priests and the pious. Then, as now, the priests and the pious were forever making you feel that you weren't giving enough or acting devout enough, certainly not as compared to them. For these spiritual mucky-mucks to be revealed as heartless and hypocritical would have struck many people--then, as now--as deliciously entertaining. They're starting to think, "Hey, this story is pretty good. What's this fellow going to come up with next?"
In a presentation of three, normally the third example is an extension of the previous two. Here we have first a priest, then a levite (a representative of a priestly family). One would expect that the third person to appear would be an ordinary Jewish person. Jesus' listeners might have reasonably expected that the ordinary Jewish person--why, people like themselves, for example--would be revealed as the one who is truly concerned about the person in need.
Jesus uncorks a real shocker: The third person to come down the road is a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were all-but-enemies. Centuries of insults and provocations had made each group so disgusted with the other that Jews travelling to Galilee or Judea would usually opt to take the longer route through Transjordan rather than set foot in Samaria. No Jewish woman could marry a Samaritan. (More on Samaritans and Jews in this post on 9:51-62).
In fact, Jesus had just made a foray into Samaria himself. When he "set his face" to go to Jerusalem (9:51), he took the most direct route there which meant entering Samaria. A village of Samaria "would not receive him," however, "because his face was set towards Jerusalem." Samaritans looked for God on Mt. Gerizim, not the Temple in Jerusalem. (In Luke, it is not uncommon for the initial thrust of Jesus' ministry to be met with rejection.)
Now, however, a Samaritan--shockingly--is a positive example. His first two actions are identical to the priest and the Levite. He "came," and is described as "seeing." Where they "passed by on the other side," however, the Samaritan was "moved with compassion" (splagxnizomai).
Splagxnizomai is a strong word. It means "to feel compassion, to yearn in the bowels." This is, quite literally, gut-level compassion. Luke uses the word three times in his gospel--once here, once to describe the father of the prodigal son (15:20), and once to describe Jesus' own emotional state (7:13). The Samaritan is in some fine company.
We are now situated so that we can see another aspect of what Jesus was up to in the first part of the story. Priests and Levites were more than religious functionaries. It fell to them to discern who was and was not a part of the community of God. They represent the Temple-based "establishment" within Judaism. "They epitomize a worldview of tribal consciousness," says Joel Green (p. 431.)
Jesus has blasted that worldview to smithereens. To the Jewish lawyer, and his mainly Jewish audience, Jesus says that it is the one they perceive as their enemy, the Samaritan, who feels compassion, acts as a neighbor, and helps the man in need.
Moreover, while the half-dead man is not specifically identified as Jewish, most listeners would simply assume that he is. This Samaritan is touching the Jewish man--binding wounds, pouring oil and wine, setting him on a beast. Normally, this would render the Jewish man unclean, but that consideration seems strangely irrelevant in the face of the much larger concern of the man's life.
Jesus underlines the point by stressing the effusive nature of the Samaritan's help. His initial actions are described in detail and followed by additional actions oriented toward the man's long-term care. The Samaritan has placed himself at personal risk both physically and financially.
The text concerns "doing." "What do I do?" was the first question asked by the lawyer. In response, Jesus told a story of the Samaritan's actions, then asked his own question: "Which of these three, do you think, came to be neighbor of the man who fell to robbers?" The lawyer answers: "The one doing mercy to him." (The NRSV's "showed mercy" is inadequate.) The Samaritan is neighbor to the Jewish man because he acted mercifully. He did something which was based in compassion.
Jesus then said, "Go and you do likewise." To do likewise for the lawyer would, presumably, be to act with mercy toward a Samaritan, and thus be a neighbor to the Samaritan. The alternative would be to maintain his strict sense of tribal boundaries and continue to shun Samaritans, which would place the lawyer on the side of the priest and Levite, a place which is now, in light of Jesus' story, a rather uncomfortable place to be.
The lawyer had asked, "Who is my neighbor?" The question assumes a discourse on who, exactly, is "one who is near" and who isn't. At what point can we say that "neighbor" stops and "stranger" begins? Who, exactly, am I obligated to love?
Jesus ignores that question. Instead, he tells a story of an enemy--an enemy who, through his merciful actions, becomes neighbor. If a Samaritan may become neighbor to a Jewish man, and the lawyer is enjoined to be like the Samaritan, then anyone may be neighbor. It is not a question of where to draw the line, but rather of erasing that line entirely.
Image: The Good Samaritan, Dinah Roe Kendall