For the most part I enjoy my interactions with the friendly folks I encounter on the Orthosphere blog. With a notable few and hostile exceptions, I find the contributors to be intellectually rigorous and respectful. They hold firm to their traditionalist values in the face of an aggressive politically correct culture and although I do not agree with all of their arguments and their sometimes hostile and shaming treatment of those who question them, I have to respect their fortitude. I have also learned a thing or two from them and changed my position on certain issues as a result of reading their blog.
Recently, I had an exchange with an Orthosphere contributor JMSmith on the subject of the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was reminded of the parable by an exchange in the comment section of a post entitled Against Global Thinking written by JMSmith. Specifically, one comment written by mickvet read:
Our Lord told his followers to love their neighbour, not the people who lived in Hispania or far away Scythia. Wise words-His advice is hard enough to follow, as it is.
To which JMSmith replied:
A man who puts an unnatural construction on the word neighbor is very probably a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
To which I replied:
I made this comment because in Luke 10:36, Jesus directly addresses the question, “who is my neighbor?” alleviating the need for the use of an unnatural construction. The passage reads:
[A man] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him…
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Luke 10:29-37
From my perspective, the natural language of this passage suggests that a neighbor is one who shows mercy. This neighborly status exists irrespective of the neighbor’s ethnicity or religion as the Samaritans were distinctly not of the same ethnicity of the Jews not did they follow the same religious practice as the Jews and as a result were generally considered to be “dirty dogs” by Jews as JMSmith points out.
Philanthropic versus Misanthropic
JMSmith labels my interpretation of this parable as “philanthropic.” That is, seeking to promote the welfare of others. Whereas he labels his own interpretation as “misantrhopic.” That is, disliking humankind and being anti-social. He claims his interpretation “attend[s] to the actual words of the story” obviously implying that my and the majority of modern Christians’ interpretation does not. This is worth exploring.
The distinction JMSmith seems to be drawing relies heavily on his assertion that the Jew is the protagonist of the parable, whereas the Samaritan is a supporting character. Therefore (JMSmith argues) the moral lesson necessarily must lie with the Jew’s perception of reality and not the Samaritan’s. True, the moral lesson of a story is often depicted through the eyes of the main character (or hero) of a story who grows and transforms as a person through his experience in the story. However, moral lessons can also be depicted through a mentor figure who does not necessarily undergo the same transformation as a hero. For this reason, on it’s face, it seems to me that JMSmith’s assertion that the Jew is the protagonist and therefore the moral lesson of the story must necessarily be found only in his transformation need not necessarily be the case. But as I said it is worthy of exploration.
JMSmith seems to ascribe (or perhaps project) a great deal of mental activity on the part of the Jew, where as the “actual words of the story” provide no description of the Jew’s state of mind. There is no description of the Jew being grateful for the Samaritan’s actions. Nor is there a description of the Jew despising the Samaritan as “a dirty dog”. We can assume that the Jew transformed as a result of the Samaritan’s kind acts (as JMSmith seems to do) but the plain fact is that the “actual words of the story” make no mention of this. In fact, the protagonist Jew does not transform in any way far as we know, if we are to “attend to the actual words of the story.”
As such, it is interesting to me that JMSmith insists that the moral teaching of the parable must be found in the transformation of the Jew when the actual words of the story JMSmith claims to attend to (and by implication claims that I and the majority of modern Christians do not) make no mention of this transformation. This is especially true in light of Jesus’ actual words “Go and do likewise.” Jesus asks the question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?” To which the expert replied, “The one who had mercy on [the Jew].” To which Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.” Is this not the moral lesson of the passage? That is, to go and be like the Samaritan who showed mercy? I think the actual words of the story can only lead to this conclusion.
Jesus’ teachings can be harsh and surprising and do not always accord with our own sense of what is righteous behavior. In another passage Jesus tells us to “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great… Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36). This seems to accord better with the philanthropic interpretation rather than JMSmith’s misanthropic interpretation. I agree with JMSmith that we should attend to His actual words as we find them. More to it, we should be careful not to project our own desires and state of mind onto His teachings, just as we should be careful not to project our own desires and state of mind onto our neighbors and humbly accept the teachings they bring to us as we find them.