Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Good Muslim?

Perhaps one of the most famous parables of Jesus, besides the parable of the prodigal son, is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Even non-believers who have never picked up a Bible are familiar with the term Good Samaritan as someone who helps another in a time of need. We have organizations honoring the famous Samaritan (such as Samaritan's Purse) and laws as well (such as the Good Samaritan law). The most obvious meaning is that all of us should be willing to lend a hand when we see someone in a desperate situation.

This was not, however, the primary meaning to the original hearers of the parable. What would have shocked the first century Jewish audience the most was the fact that the hero of the story was, in fact, a Samaritan. What seems to us like a simple help your neighbor story was acutally a very clever literary device by Jesus to condemn one of the most prevalent sins of his era (and our own I might add). The sin Jesus was referring to was, of course, racism. Jews simply didn't like Samaritans because they were half-breeds, racially impure.

Given that the majority of my readers are Christians with a similar background as myself, I am reasonably sure that what I have written so far should come as no surprise. All of us have heard sermons on racism at one time or another and, thank God, most of us realize that racism is a sin. What may come as a surprise is that the parable of the Good Samaritan was not only a slight against racism but also against another sin that I feel is far less talked about, and that is the sin of religious bigotry.

The Samaritans were not just racial half-breeds between ethnic Jews and Assyrians. They were also apostates from Judiasm. They believed in the God of Abraham and yet, they mixed their belief in God with pagan idolatry. The Samaritans were the descendants of the 10 tribes of Israel who broke away from Judah and Benjamin and set up their own version of temple worship complete with their own priesthood-something they had no authority to do under the Law of Moses. Not only that, when they were finally taken captive by the Assyrians, they interbred with them and adopted some of their religious beliefs as well.

And the hero of the story is a Samaritan? Impossible! In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus cut to the heart of religious pride to teach us that individuals should be judged on the content of their character, not on their race or, yes, even their religion.

If Jesus were giving this story today on a pulpit in one of the thousands of mega-churches that dot the American landscape, I wonder if He would tell the story of the Good Muslim? Furthermore, I wonder what kind of reaction He would get if He did.

4 comments:

Pete said...

Aaron,
Yeah, I see where you're coming from here. I would say that this is another interesting post in what seems to be your theme for the last several months. I think that it's interesting that Jesus made this point because, if you think about it, religion is the biggest labelling cause in the world. Think about it..."I'm a..." catholic, presbyterian, muslim, sunni, shiite, calvinist, dispensationist, atheist. Everybody wants to label themselves, label others, and then compare our labels so we can show everyone why we're better. God's no fool. He saw it coming and told us to stop being so childish ( note: Jesus was teaching this to children, perhaps a coincidence, perhaps an illustration ).
Pete

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete,

Good points. I am curious though, where does it say in the text that Jesus was giving the illustration to children? I couldn't find that in the text when I looked it up.

toby said...

if the teaching to children aspect cannot be found in the bible, it may have been found only in "alive again".

what was jesus' main point behind the story? the question that brought up this topic was "what must I do to inherit eternal life?". Jesus responded by telling him the two greatest commandments and He used the story to explain what a neighbor was. it happened that Jesus' definition of a neighbor seemed to be broader than that of the Jew(s).

today, we can use the same idea of loving others regardless of their background. we don't know a samaritan from an abo-digital, but we do have people from different lifestyles and religions and races (Muslim is a good example).

the story is a good reminder of what God expects from us and that God is not partial towards particular religions, but to those who follow Him wholeheartedly by loving God and loving others.

Pete said...

You're right. It doesn't actually say that he was teaching children at the time, but several scholars have connected that teaching with events in the other gospels where Jesus had asked to speak with the children. I'm not sure of the accuracy but I think that's why it was in Alive Again ( as Toby mentioned ) in that way. Anywho, the point was that Jesus points out things that are quite childish in nature to adults. Even right before the story of the Good Samaritan starts in Luke, Jesus says (paraphrase) "How is it that kids get this stuff and you guys don't?"