This week’s article is by Ben Gladd. Ben earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at Wheaton College. He is Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. He frequently teaches in The Refuge and Covenant classes at Highlands. His most recent book is The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament

These are trying times for us on all sorts of levels—loss of employment, pandemic, and racial tensions, to name a few. Two areas of life that address our needs in the current climate and, well, in any climate are loving one’s neighbor and calm devotion to Scripture.

The famous parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36) answers the question posed by the expert in the law: “who is my neighbor?” (10:29b). The parable contains four notable characters—the beaten man (Jew? Gentile?), a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The priest and the Levi embody the upper echelon of Jewish culture, whereas the Samaritan is an individual despised by the Jews (see comments on John 4:1-26). The priest and the Levite “pass by on the other side” of the beaten man (10:31, 32). Commentators often point out that these two individual are probably maintaining ritual purity (see Lev 22:4; Num 19:13; 31:19). They are far more concerned about the scruples of ritual over the life of an individual. We are not far removed from Jesus’ question to the Pharisees in 6:9: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” The parable must also be understood in light of successful mission of the seventy-two disciples (10:1-17) and Luke’s gospel at large. The kingdom is blooming in the nations, and all those within the covenant community must recognize God’s new phase of redemption.

After Jesus delivers the parable, he asks the expert in the law “which of these three do you think was a neighbor…?” (10:36). Perhaps reluctantly, the expert is forced to admit that it was the Samaritan, the “one who had mercy” on the beaten man (10:37). The parable is prefaced with the imperative to “do this” (10:28), i.e., the commandments of Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, and concludes with another imperative to “Go and do likewise” (10:37b). Leviticus 19, too, requires the Israelites to care for a “foreigner residing among” them and to “love them” (Lev 19:33-34). In sum, while this scholar many know the ins and outs of the Old Testament, he must practice what he preaches, regardless of a person’s ethnicity. A truly careful reader of Israel’s law would have.

Luke places the account of Mary and Martha following Jesus’ interaction with the expert in the law. While Luke only identifies the location as a “village,” this account probably took place in Bethany, where Lazarus, Mary, and Martha live (see John 11:1-44; 12:1-11). The juxtaposition arrests the reader. Martha’s frenetic behavior stands in contrast to Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (10:39). We find the same idea in Acts 22:3 when Paul recounts his upbringing in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel” and being “educated.” In both cases, sitting at the feet is associated with learning. In stark contrast to the expert in the law who interrogates Jesus (10:25), Mary sits at the feet of her Lord and submits herself to his kingdom message. Two women who do not enjoy a great deal of social standing in the first-century Jewish culture, stand in sharp relief to the popular expert in the law.

We would do well on both counts in these difficult days: love our neighbor and sit at the feet of our Savior.