Friday, June 22, 2007

Was the Good Samaritan Saved?

When I debated Mr. James "Pseudopodeo" White on the topic of Justification back in 1991, I asked him the question:

Was the Good Samaritan saved?

It was a trick question. No matter how he answered it, his Calvinoid system was in trouble. He did not realize that but he smelled a rat and instead of answering the question gave the dishonest excuse that since the Good Samaritan was not areal person, it was impossible to know.
In this post, we will explore this Gospel story and I will give you my response to Pseudopodeo's pitiful attempt at evading the obvious.
This is the story taken from St. Luke's Gospel:

Luke 10:25
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke 10:26
He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?"
Luke 10:27
And he 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."
Luke 10:28
And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
Luke 10:29
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Luke 10:30
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
Luke 10:31
Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:32
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:33
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion,
Luke 10:34
and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Luke 10:35
And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'
Luke 10:36
Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"
Luke 10:37
He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The story begins when a Jewish scholar who was learned in the Mosaic Law (a kind of Rabbi) asks Jesus to give his interpretation of what was needed to gain "eternal life". In short, how does one get to heaven? Jesus responded by asking the scholar for his own opinion. The scholar answered quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus affirmed that he was right.

But the scholar in good rabbinic fashion wanted to unpack this further and so he asked "And who is my neighbor?" St. Luke tells us that he actually wanted to "justify" himself. This is a euphemism for trying to make himself look good at Jesus' expense. There was an on going debate among the Rabbis whether or not a Jew had the same moral obligations to people outside the Mosaic Covenant that they did to those within the Covenant. For the sake of gaining eternal life, did one's conduct towards non-Jews "count".

Jesus turns the tables on him and tells a story instead of a non-Jew who comes to the aid of a Jew whom other Jews did not help. He even upped the ante. The ones who refused to help were a Priest and a Levite.

We need to make an important point about the story. The Jew who had been assaulted was "left half dead". This is a critical part of the story. Priests and Levites were ministers of the Temple and were forbidden to touch dead bodies or even blood other than that of sacrificial victims. Even in Jewish cemeteries today, there is a special area reserved for those of priestly lineage (kohanim) so that they will not render themselves unclean when attending a funeral or visiting a grave. When the Priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road, they were doing so out of a RELIGIOUS OBLIGATION. For all they knew, the man was dead and touching him would only defile them.

But then along comes the Samaritan. Again it is important that we understand who he is. The Samaritans were a Semitic people who lived in the area surrounding Mt. Gerizim in Israel. They were apparently descended from the Jewish tribes of Ephraim and Mannaseh, but when the Assyrians conquered Israel and carried most Jews into captivity, these people remained in Israel. The implication was that they were collaborators with the Assyrians. When the Jews returned from the exile, they shunned these people and the communities have been religiously separate ever since. The Samaritans have their own version of the Torah and their own traditions of observance separate from those of mainstream Judaism. they did not worship at the temple in Jerusalem but instead had their own rites performed on Mt. Gerizim.

At the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were looked upon by the Jews as heretics and infidels. They were considered even worse than the Romans because instead of being merely Gentiles (goyim) they were apostates. Family squabbles are always the worst.

So when the Samaritan came upon the injured Jew in the parable, he would have been considered the lowest of the low, a moral reprobate, and allegedly a person with no religious scruples. But because this man allegedly had no religious scruples (unlike the Priest and the Levite) there was nothing to prevent him from going to the wounded man's aid. Even the Jewish Scholar had to admit that the real neighbor to the injured Jew was the non-Jew who showed compassion to him. And Jesus advised the Scholar to be like that Samaritan and not like the Priest and the Levite.

So in this revolutionary parable, Jesus turned the world upside down. In the minds of the Jews in Jesus' day, the idea of a "good Samaritan" was an oxymoron while Priests and Levites were the most strictly observant of all Jews. Jesus extended the franchise for one's neighbor to include everyone even those considered to have abandoned the Mosaic Covenant. And he made it clear that such love was necessary to gain eternal life.

Now back to the debate.

After Pseudopodeo gave his evasive answer, I told him that it was a good thing that he did because whether he said "Yes" or "No" he would have been in trouble.

If he had said that the Good Samaritan was saved, it would have meant that someone who was NOT a Christian had gained eternal life by good works and not by faith in Christ.

If he had said that the Good Samaritan was not saved, then Jesus was holding up the behavior of a reprobate unbeliever as an example for us to emulate instead of the religious faithfulness of the Priest and the Levite.

Pseudopodeo became extremely angry and went into a tirade against me in his rebuttal, but he never dealt with the issue. That was pretty much how he responded during the entire debate.

So what of it? Was the Good Samaritan "saved"? We Catholics have no problem in accepting this. We understand that faith without works is dead and that good works are the fruit of a heart that loves God and -- more importantly -- is loved BY God.

It is obvious that Jesus rose above the bigotry of his Jewish co-religionists (and many of his subsequent followers) in seeing the good in men's hearts, even when they did not practice the true religion (which in his day was Judaism). As St. Peter would later say:

Act 10:34
And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality,
Act 10:35
but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ we too must understand this. Jesus told us that Samaritans could be good (Luke 10:25-37), Publicans could be justified(Luke 18:10-14), and that a Roman Centurion could have more faith than any other man in Israel (Luke 7:9).

This can be a bitter pill for many religious people to swallow, but is essential to Christian discipleship that we acknowledge the good we find in other people who do not share our religious views. You see, salvation is a rescue mission, not a catechism quiz. It is God who saves us by his love and power, not we who save ourselves by our faith or our works. Those who seek him with an upright heart cannot fail to find him, even if they only do so with a flash of insight at the moment of death.

I wish that Mr. White could see that. But over the years he seems to have hardened his heart against his fellow men -- even those of us within Christianity -- who do not share his views. He continues to take every opportunity to attack, defame, misrepresent, and insult believers of other faiths. This is a danger about which all of us apologists need to be aware.

The real question each of us needs to ask himself is whether I have been a good neighbor, or just another religious pundit like the Priest and the Levite who has passed his brother on the wayside and left him for dead.


prof said...

vous pouvez inscrire votre blog sur

rr1213 said...

A well written analysis.

Assuming that the Good Samaritan was a real person--and also that he lived after Christ was sacrificed for our sins--can we tell if he is a saved person?

I don't think so. He is certainly acting as a good neighbor and loving his neighbor as himself. Also, we know that we shall know people by their fruits. Still, from the Protestant viewpoint does he have saving faith? We don't know. From the Catholic viewpoint, does he have faith and works and is he in a state of grace? We don't know that either.

The best answer, of course, is that Jesus used this story to make a point. It is not a perfect analogy for all aspects of our faith life, just for the point that Jesus was trying to make at the time. To extend it beyond that point is to leave the safeharbor of Jesus' parable and enter waters that are unknown.