Over at TGC, Tullian Tchividjian offers an interesting spin on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
If Jesus had been asked, “How should we treat our neighbors?” and had responded with this story, perhaps “Be like the Good Samaritan” would be an acceptable interpretation. Instead, Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asked a vertical question (a question about a person’s relationship to God) rather than a horizontal one. The lawyer was, after all, seeking to “justify” himself. This parable must, therefore, be interpreted vertically. It’s about justification, not sanctification.
Far from telling the story to help us become like The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells this story to show us how far from being like The Good Samaritan we actually are! Jesus’ parable destroys our efforts to justify ourselves; to find a class of people we can call “neighbors” that we actually do love. In destroying our self-salvation projects, the story of The Good Samaritan destroys us. Jesus brings the hammer of the Law (“Be perfect…”) down on our self-justifying work.
In a rich irony, we move from being identified with the priest and the Levite who never perfectly love our best friends “as ourselves,” much less our enemies, to being identified with the traveler in desperate need of salvation. Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. We are the breathless bruised. We are the needy, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We are the broken people, beaten up by life, robbed of hope.
But then Jesus comes.
Unlike the Priest and Levite, He doesn’t avoid us. He crosses the street—from heaven to earth—comes into our mess, gets his hands dirty. At great cost to himself on the cross, he heals our wounds, covers our nakedness, and loves us with a no-strings-attached love. He brings us to the Father and promises that his “help” is not simply a one time gift—rather, it’s a gift that will forever cover “the charges” we incur.
Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.
Oh boy, this is just so counter-intuitive that I am struggling to know what to say in response.
Okay, first, yes, I like a good christocentric reading of any passage, Jesus is the Good Samaritan par excellence, I get it. And, second, yes, good deeds should not be a mean of self-justifying ourselves.
But to put this in context, Pastor Tullian has such an allergy to moral exhortation that he appeals to irony in order to imply that the text means the opposite of what it actually says. The point is not, “Don’t think of yourself as a Good Samartian less you try to justify yourself!” The point of the story is that Jesus wants us to be Good Samaritans, for that is what it means to fulfill the law. By golly, when Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” he didn’t mean, “Consider the depth of your sin and how much you need the imputation of my active obedience,” no, he meant “Go and do likewise” or “Go and be Good Samaritans.”
It is not healthy to preach moral imperatives without gospel indicatives, but it is not healthy either to preach gospel indicatives without gospel imperatives.
The Lord makes ethical demands of his people and they should not be explained away under the mistaken guise of christocentricity or even grace.