MY THOUGHT ON BIBLICAL IMAGERY
(Fr. Michael Boakye Yeboah, Vice Rector – St. Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)
THE GOOD SAMARITAN (LUKE 10:25-37)
This story of “KINDNESS” is pregnant with varied meanings. One needs to pay attention to this pericope from the pen of Luke, for at first sight one may think that Jesus was only talking about “who one’s neighbor is,” in order to draw home his lesson to the lawyer who stood up to test him. Luke may have employed the allegoric style in writing this account.
Allegory being the style of Luke, makes me view this pericope from a different inspired angle. Who does the robbed man represent? Who are the robbers? The identity of the Samaritan (foreigner) who came to his aid, who is he? The figure of the Levite and the priest in the story? Does the journey from Jericho to Jerusalem ring any bells? Let us start from the last imagery.
Talmudic traditions refer to Jericho as a priestly settlement and during the time of Jesus over two thousand priests lived there. They took turns to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and burn incense; Zachariah’s story may buttress this point (cf. Luke 1:5-20). Jerusalem was the site for the temple where sacrifices were offered.
Having spread the canvas for our painting, let us put the respective images there and see if we can get a portrait that incites academic and spiritual fascination. The figurative imagery on the canvas portrays an image of priestly sacrifice. Because of the indifference of the priests of the day who were caught up in political intrigues, Jesus goes to Jericho to make the journey to Jerusalem to offer a perfect sacrifice as the victim and as the priest devoid of any political colorings. Let us take a close look at the details and see if we can infer meanings from the figures and places in the story.
Now the inspired writer tells us that the man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. I will like to think that “the man” is a figurative image for Jesus, representing the priests who lived in Jericho. He was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho after exercising his official duties of offering sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. Priests normally carried with them money for few expenses in the city and so they were targets of robbers. He fell into the hands of robbers, who robbed him and beat him, leaving him half-dead.
Figuratively, can the robbers be the crowd at Pilate’s residence, whose shouting “crucify him crucify him…” robbed Jesus of his dignity and left him for dead, which the Prophet Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 53, a horrific prophecy. Then comes the Levite and the priests, who though standing at the other side did nothing to help their “fellow priest.” In the case of the High Priest and the Levites at Pilate’s residence, they laid the charges and accusations on Jesus, while in the case of the priest and the Levite who passed-by the man robbed, they just remained silent and indifferent. But in criminal law “inactiveness” in the mode of silence does not excused a person from a crime, for they may be equally guilty with those who were active. The Good Samaritan in the story can figuratively be Simon of Cyrene, the foreigner who came to the assistance of Jesus on his way to offer that sacrifice at Calvary. The Good Friday event shares close similarities with the account of the Good Samaritan. Simon of Cyrene like the Good Samaritan, also came into contact with a man who was in dire need of help and yet his own brothers and sisters refused to help him. The image of a Samaritan is also understood within the context of a foreigner; because in some other places in the scriptures, the name “Samaritan” is interchangeably used with the name foreigner. For example, Jesus will employ the word foreigner as we see in the story of the healing of the ten lepers… “no one return to give thanks except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). The whole portrait can be seen as a prefiguration of the paschal mystery and to be precise the Good Friday event receives a precast in the story of the Good Samaritan.
But in another instance, one can find Jesus hidden behind the figure of the Good Samaritan in the parable. The story seems to be an account in which Jesus does not appear and yet it bears his mark, for no one except Jesus could tell it in such a way, namely, that those who should have been compassionate (the priest and the Levite) pass by, while the foreigner takes pity on the “half-dead” victim, ministers to him, cares for him, and concerns himself with him even after departing. Only Jesus tells it this way and he does so because he himself has done everything that the foreigner did and he has done it lavishly for everyone. “Samaritan” is a pseudonym for Jesus and thus, when he tells the lawyer to “go and do the same”, he is inviting him to become his disciple. The mark of Christ is found in the extravagance of involvement, which points back to the answer that Jesus gave to the question about eternal life: “Love with your whole heart”, not only God, but also your neighbor.
As the man robbed and left for half-dead, Jesus represents his sacrificial journey to Calvary where Priest and Levites stood unconcern only for a foreigner, Simon of Cyrene to help him while as the Good Samaritan, Jesus is that stranger who helps you on your life journey when help seems not to come from close friends and family.