Reflections on the Lectionary text Luke 10:25-37

Journey, way, path of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10

Two different kinds of trips are indicated in Jesus’ parable: the priest is characterized as going “by chance” (κατὰ συγκυρίαν) somewhere, and the following Levite travels “similarly” (ὁμοίως) – also “by chance”?.  The priest is simply “going” (κατέβαινεν) down the path (ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ), and the Levite simply “came to that place” κατὰ τὸν τόπον ἐλθὼν) but both continue on their way – taking pains to avoid contact by walking “on the other side” (ἀντιπαρῆλθεν).

“The path” (LXX:  ὁδὸς, Hebrew: ‏דֶּרֶךְ) is a frequent metaphor in the Old Testament for the way set forth for the people by the Lord himself.

The first question is, can you go down “the path” (ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ) “by chance” or without thought; cavalierly?  If the Old Testament use of the image of “the way, the path” is relevant, then following it, staying on it, not turning away from it, is a matter of great importance – even life and death.  Can one stay on the path of life by traveling “by chance”?
By contrast, the Samaritan was not merely “going” along; rather, he was “on a journey” (ὁδεύων).  Would it be “over-translating” to render this present participle as “was journeying”?  Perhaps the contrast between the two ways of traveling, by chance or by intentional journeying is intentional.
If so, what “journey” was the Samaritan on?  What was he leaving behind, and where was he going?

It is noteworthy that this parable has been preceded by a Q&A from the “lawyer” and Jesus about the way one can guarantee his “inheritance” of “eternal life”.  The answer has been agreed by both the lawyer and Jesus: the great Shema (Dt 6:4), with its command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,”  to which was added  “and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

The shema’s command of total intentional obedience was echoed specifically as a definition of the meaning of walking in “all his ways” in Dt. 10:12 “walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,”.
“Walking in all his ways” was also the criteria by which Israel was told she could remain in the land, frequently called her “inheritance” from the Lord “If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him,  23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves.” (Deut. 11:22-28).   The lawyer asked Jesus how to guarantee his “inheritance”, having just cited the shema.  He believed he was on “the path” which would produce the result he longed for.

The question is, can you consider yourself “on the (right) way” without purposeful “journeying” to people in need as the Samaritan did?

Perhaps Jesus’ question “which one of them was a neighbor to him?” could be rendered “which one of them was really “on the way”?

Relevant verses:

Deut. 5:33 You must follow exactly the path that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

Deut. 8:6 Therefore keep the commandments of the LORD your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

Deut. 10:12   So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,

Deut. 11:22   If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him,  23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves.  24 Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea.  25 No one will be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the fear and dread of you on all the land on which you set foot, as he promised you. 26   See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:  27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today;  28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

Shema “Hear”

Deut. 6:4   Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,  9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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