Luke-Acts: Luke 10

The Journey Towards Jerusalem

After setting His face to go towards Jerusalem (9:51), Jesus begins His journey. And we get some remarkable accounts of His action and teaching along the way.

Jesus extends His ministry here through His appointed messengers. At first it was the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6), and now it's many more than that. But their commissioning is basically the same: to bring the news of the Kingdom of God to people through proclamation and healing (9:9).

The message is one of peace. Those who receive the message—that is, those who hear it, believe it, and treasure it—have what it offers: peace with God, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. Those who reject it are the ones whom Jesus speaks to in 10:13-15, warning that rejecting God's salvation rejects God and will lead to eternal separation from Him, something which He certainly doesn't want (see also 1 Timothy 2:4-7).

Interpreting Scripture
This passage is a good illustration of the important difference between descriptive and prescriptive content in the Bible. Descriptive means it simply describes what happened; it doesn't carry the further implication that it always ought to be done. Prescriptive is just that: it is something prescribed, like a doctor's prescription for medication. The difference is important in applying the Bible to our lives; just because something is described in the Bible does not mean that God prescribes it, that it is always to happen.

Having said that, we can always learn from all of the Bible, even the decsriptive parts. But we must be discerning about how far to go with that. One way to help in that discernment is not to consider only one verse/passage in isolation from all the rest of Scripture.

In this instance, Jesus sends out missionaries to bring a message of peace to various places. In a broad way, we can apply that to ourselves in the sense that the Church on earth is to do the same thing (again, considering other passages in conjunction with this, where that is prescribed by Jesus, e.g. Matthew 28:16-20). But this is a description of a specific context: just because He send these particular missionaries out two-by-two with no supplies (10:4) doesn't mean all missionaries in all times and places should do it the exact same way. Again, generally, we can apply that part of it by saying that those who do this kind of work do well not to go it alone, and that they don't need to concern themselves with having all kinds of worldly supplies and wealth. But we need not be legalistic in applying this to ourselves (in other words, we don't need to be afraid that if we don't do missions in the exact same manner as these ones did, that God won't be at work).

10:19 is another good example of this principle; just because Jesus promises these missionaries that things like snakes and scorpions won't hurt them, it doesn't automatically follow that they will never hurt any missionary (or regular Christian).

Notice the emphasis of Jesus in 10:20. These disciples, though they are not the Twelve, fall into some of the same self-centred tendencies that the Twelve (and let's face it, us too) do: they're focused on themselves and what they were able to accomplish. Jesus gently redirects their joy; He wants their focus not to be on their power, but on their salvation.

10:21-23 Revelation and Hiddenness
Jesus offers what we think might be an odd thing: a prayer of thanksgiving of the hiddenness of the Kingdom. This hiddenness is a bit of a mystery to us; why would God not want it to be fully revealed? We dare not speculate about things that God Himself has hidden from us. But we can say one thing about this prayer, that its hiddenness does help us to understand that it's not up to us to figure the Kingdom out. The message of peace is hidden from those who think themselves wise and understanding, those who are self-sufficient. But to those who see themselves as "little children" (a term Jesus uses mostly to describe His disciples, not just people in general who are a very young age), those who know that they aren't self-sufficient, they receive the news of the Kingdom with joy, with a truly child-like faith that believes the word of the Father.

10:25-37 A Parable, Not a Moral Tale
The hiddenness of the previous verses is illustrated here in this parable. Remember that a parable of Jesus is best understood not as a story with a moral lesson, but an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Parables most often begin with a statement such as, "the Kingdom of God is like…", though this one—maybe the most famous parable of all—doesn't.

This parable—like almost all the others—comes as part of a conversation. And this particular one is an answer to someone who saw himself as wise and understanding (again, going back to 10:21) and who wanted to justify himself instead of simply trusting the word of Jesus.

This "lawyer" (understood not like we would use the word today, but best understood as an expert in the Jewish Law) did well in the first part of the conversation, though perhaps his motivation wasn't altogether pure. He asked the question in order to put Jesus to the test; it's the very thing that Jesus said to the devil during the temptations in the wilderness that we were not to do: put God to the test (Luke 4:13, quoting Deut. 6:16).

In spite of that, he asked Jesus (calling him Rabbi) a valid question: what eternal life depended on. Jesus turned it back to him by asking a most interesting question: "how do you read it?". This wasn't Jesus only asking, "what do you think it means?". There was a worship implication to it; faithful Jews were expected to read and recite the "Shema" (pronounced "shuh-MAH", which comes from the Hebrew word for "hear") twice a day. The Shema comes from Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

This man adds the second great commandment to that, about loving one's neighbour as one's self. Maybe this man had heard Jesus say that, and maybe he was answering it that way because he knew that's what Jesus taught (e.g. Matt 22:34-40). In any case, it was the right answer. If a person is able to keep these two commandments (which sum up all the commandments), then that person can inherit eternal life.

The problem is, no one can do that. And this man illustrates that well as he presses Jesus because he wants to justify himself. And so Jesus uses this parable to show the expert in the Law just high of a bar the Law actually demands. We don't have time to go through all the details here, but just a few notes…

10:31-32 The priest would have been "justified" by the Law about preventing him from interacting with blood or a dead man (he may have thought the beaten man dead). The Levite wouldn't have been bound in the same way, but perhaps he would have wanted to emulate the priest. Either way, two "good" men bound to the Law passed on the need to help.

10:33 The Greek language doesn't need to use the same word order as English to make basic sense. Word order is generally used to indicate emphasis. So a word appearing first in a sentence or phrase means that it's receiving empahsis that it wouldn't otherwise receive if it appeared somewhere else in the sentence. It's a way of doing the same thing we English speakers do when we put something in bold or italics, or when we speak and use a spoken emphasis on a specific word. In English, which word gets the emphasis doesn't change the basic meaning, but it changes the nuanced meaning.

A bit of an exercise: read/say the following short sentence multiple times, each time emphasizing a different word. You'll realize that each one of them has a slightly different nuance (we'll use both bold and italics to really emphasize the word!): "I didn't say that."

I didn't say that: maybe someone else did, but I myself didn't.

I didn't say that: responding to an accusation that you did in fact say that.

I didn't say that: maybe I thought it or implied, but I didn't actually say it out loud.

I didn't say that: I might have said something else or something similar, but not that specific thing.

All of that helps us understand that, when we're told the word "Samaritan" appears at the beginning of the sentence, it's there to emphasize it. So the nuance to it is: "But a Samaritan (can you imagine that!)…had compassion". The implication is that a good Jewish person would have a tough time imagining a Samaritan as "the good guy". The relationship between Jews and Samaritans was long and complicated, but suffice it to say it was not good (see John 4:9).

10:36 Jesus upends the question, and indeed the whole premise of the expert in the Law. The lawyer wanted to know who was his neighbour; he wanted to know who the people were that he was required to help (and by implication, those that he didn't have to help, those who weren't his neighbour). But Jesus asks him who acted like a neighbour should act. So this man was asking "where's the dividing line between people who I need to help and people I don't, so that I can fulfill the command to love my neighbour as myself" and Jesus showed him that's not the right question at all. Outrageously generous mercy to all people is the actual way to fulfill the command.

By saying "go and do like this Samaritan did" would be galling to a "good" Jewish Law expert. (Jews saw Samaritans as far beneath them.) But even more than that, Jesus was showing how much the Law actually demands of us - much more than we can bring ourselves to do.

In applying this parable to our own lives then, it's not just a moral tale. In other words, the best place to find ourselves isn't in the place of the Samaritan. There is a call to act like the Samaritan did, true. But the bigger point of the parable is that the best place to put ourselves in the parable is really as the half-dead man. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, who had mercy on us and brought us eternal healing.

What an amazing picture this is! And it takes us back to the earlier discussion about descriptive and prescriptive parts of the Bible. What can we learn from this short account? Well, it happened. Great. But it's not just a history lesson. What can we take away from it?

Should we learn that "everyday" tasks, like the ones Martha was doing, are needed? After all, Jesus says Mary chose the "one thing needful", which was sitting and listening to Jesus. That would be an extreme takeaway, but we can rightly say that everything needs to be in their proper perspective. Jesus was right there, in person, and in that moment, Mary chose "the good portion". Listening to Jesus is definitely the good portion, the top priority, for us too, even as we serve well in the other vocations (the everyday things) to which God has called us.