The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH.
THE SECOND SERIES OF PARABLES
THE TWO PARABLES OF HIM
WHO IS NEIGHBOUR TO US: THE FIRST, CONCERNING THE LOVE THAT, UNASKED,
GIVES IN OUR NEED; THE SECOND, CONCERNING THE LOVE WHICH IS ELICITED
BY OUR ASKING IN OUR NEED.
(St. Luke 10:25-37, 11:5-13.)
THE period between Christ's return from the 'Feast of the
Dedication' and His last entry into Jerusalem, may be arranged into two parts,
divided by the brief visit to Bethany for the purpose of raising Lazarus from
the dead. Even if it were possible, with any certainty, chronologically to
arrange the events of each of these periods, the variety and briefness of what
is recorded would prevent our closely following them in this narrative.
Accordingly, we prefer grouping them together as the Parables of that period,
its Discourses, and its Events. And the record of the raising of Lazarus may
serve as a landmark between our Summary of the Parables and that of the
Discourses and Events which preceded the Lord's final appearance in Jerusalem.
These last words help us to understand the necessary difference
between the Parables of this and of the preceding and the following periods.
The Parables of this period look back upon the past, and forward into the
future. Those spoken by the Lake of Galilee were purely symbolical. They
presented unseen heavenly realities under emblems which required to be
translated into earthly language. It was quite easy to do so, if you possessed
the key to the heavenly mysteries; otherwise, they were dark and mysterious. So
to speak, they were easily read from above downwards. Viewed from below
upwards, only most dim and strangely intertwining outlines could be perceived.
It is quite otherwise with the second series of Parables. They could, as they
were intended, be understood by all. They required no translation. They were
not symbolical but typical, using the word 'type,' not in the sense of
involving a predictive element,1
but as indicating an example, or, perhaps, more correctly, an exemplification.2
Accordingly, the Parables of this series are also intensely practical. Lastly,
their prevailing character is not descriptive, but hortatory; and they bring
the Gospel, in the sense of glad tidings to the lost, most closely and
touchingly to the hearts of all who hear them. They are signs in words, as the
miracles are signs in works, of what Christ has come to do and to teach. Most
of them bear this character openly; and even those which do not, but seem more
like warning, have still an undertone of love, as if Divine compassion lingered
in tender pity over that which threatened, but might yet be averted.
1. As in Rom. v. 14.
2. As in 1 Cor. x. 6, 11; Phil. iii. 17; 1 Thess. 1. 7; 2 Thess. iii 9; 1 Tim. iv. 12;Tit. ii. 7; 1 Pet. v.3.
Of the Parables of the third series it will for the present
suffice to say, that they are neither symbolical nor typical, but their
prevailing characteristic is prophetic. As befits their historical place in the
teaching of Christ, they point to the near future. They are the fast falling,
lengthening shadows cast by the events which are near at hand,
The Parables of the second (or Perĉan) series, which are
typical and hortatory, and 'Evangelical' in character, are thirteen in number,
and, with the exception of the last, are either peculiar to, or else most fully
recorded in, the Gospel by St. Luke.
1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan.3
- This Parable is connected with a question, addressed to Jesus by a 'lawyer' -
not one of the Jerusalem Scribes or Teachers, but probably an expert in Jewish
Canon Law,4 who
possibly made it more or less a profession in that district, though perhaps not
for gain. Accordingly, there is a marked absence of that rancour and malice
which characterised his colleagues of Judĉa. In a previous chapter it has been
shown, that this narrative probably stands in its proper place in the Gospel of
St. Luke.5 We have
also suggested, that the words of this lawyer referred, or else that himself
belonged, to that small party among the Rabbinists who, at least in theory,
attached greater value to good works than to study. At any rate, there is no
occasion to impute directly evil motives to him. Knowing the habits of his class,
we do not wonder that he put his question to 'tempt' - test, try - the great
Rabbi of Nazareth. There are many similar instances in Rabbinic writings of
meetings between great Teachers, when each tried to involve the other in
dialectic difficulties and subtle disputations. Indeed, this was part of
Rabbinism, and led to that painful and fatal trifling with truth, when
everything became matter of dialectic subtlety, and nothing was really sacred.
What we require to keep in view is, that to this lawyer the question which he
propounded was only one of theoretic, not of practical interest, nor matter of
deep personal concern, as it was to the rich young ruler, who, not long
afterwards, addressed a similar inquiry to the Lord.6
3. St. Luke x. 25-37.
4. A distinction between different classes of Scribes, of whom some gave themselves to the study of the Law, while others included with it that of the Prophets, such as Dean Plumptre suggests (on St. Matt. xxii. 35), did not exist.
We seem to witness the opening of a regular Rabbinic contest,
as we listen to this speculative problem: 'Teacher, what having done shall I
inherit eternal life?' At the foundation lay the notion, that eternal life was
the reward of merit, of works: the only question was, what these works were to
be. The idea of guilt had not entered his mind; he had no conception of sin
within. It was the old Judaism of self-righteousness speaking without disguise:
that which was the ultimate ground of the rejecting and crucifying of the
Christ. There certainly was a way in which a man might inherit eternal life,
not indeed as having absolute claim to it, but (as the Schoolmen might have
said: de congruo) in consequence of God's Covenant on Sinai. And so our
Lord, using the common Rabbinic expression 'what readest thou?' (t)rq y)m),
pointed him to the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
The reply of the 'lawyer' is remarkable, not only on its own
account, but as substantially, and even literally, that given on two other
occasions by the Lord Himself.7
The question therefore naturally arises, whence did this lawyer, who certainly
had not spiritual insight, derive his reply? As regarded the duty of absolute
love to God, indicated by the quotation of Deut. vi. 5, there could, of course,
be no hesitation in the mind of a Jew. The primary obligation of this is
frequently referred to, and, indeed, taken for granted, in Rabbinic teaching.
The repetition of this command, which in the Talmud receives the most elaborate
and strange interpretation,8
formed part of the daily prayers. When Jesus referred the lawyer to the
Scriptures, he could scarcely fail to quote this first paramount obligation.
Similarly, he spoke as a Rabbinic lawyer, when he referred in the next place to
love to our neighbour, as enjoined in Lev. xix. 18. Rabbinism is never weary of
quoting as one of the characteristic sayings of its greatest teacher, Hillel
(who, of course, lived before this time), that he had summed up the Law, in
briefest compass, in these words: 'What is hateful to thee, that do not to
another. This is the whole Law; the rest is only its explanation.'9
Similarly, Rabbi Akiba taught, that Lev. xix. 18 was the principal rule, we
might almost say, the chief summary of the Law (hrwtb lwdg llk).10
Still, the two principles just mentioned are not enunciated in conjunction by
Rabbinism, nor seriously propounded as either containing the whole Law or as
securing heaven. They are also, as we shall presently see, subjected to grave
modifications. One of these, as regards the negative form in which Hillel put
it, while Christ put it positively,1112
has been previously noticed. The existence of such Rabbinic modifications, and
the circumstance, already mentioned, that on two other occasions the answer of
Christ Himself to a similar inquiry was precisely that of this lawyer, suggests
the inference, that this question may have been occasioned by some teaching of
Christ, to which they had just listened, and that the reply of the lawyer may
have been prompted by what Jesus had preached concerning the Law.
7. St. Matt. xix. 16-22; xxii. 34-40.
8. Thus: '"With all thy heart" - with both thy impulses, that to good and that to evil; "with all thy soul" - even if it takes away thy soul; "with all thy might" - "with all thy money." Another interpretation: "With all thy might" - in regard to every measure with which He measures to thee art thou bound to praise Him' (there is here a play on the words which cannot be rendered), Ber. 54 a,
about the middle.
9. Shabb. 31 a, about the middle.
10. Yalkut i. 174 a, end; Siphra on the passage, ed. Weiss, p. 89 b; also Ber. R. 24, end.
11. St. Matt. vii. 12.
12. Hamburger (Real Encykl., Abth. ii. p. 411) makes the remarkable admission that the negative form was chosen to make the command 'possible' and 'practical.' It is not so that Christ has accommodated the Divine Law to our sinfulness. See previous remarks on this Law in
Book III. ch. xviii.
If it be asked, why Christ seemed to give His assent to the
lawyer's answer, as if it really pointed to the right solution of the great
question, we reply: No other answer could have been given him. On the ground of
works - if that had been tenable - this was the way to heaven. To understand
any other answer, would have required a sense of sin; and this could not be
imparted by reasoning: it must be experienced. It is the preaching of the Law
which awakens in the mind a sense of sin.13
Besides, if not morally, yet mentally, the difficulty of this 'way' would soon
suggest itself to a Jew. Such, at least, is one aspect of the counter-question
with which 'the lawyer' now sought to retort on Jesus.
13. Rom. vii.
Whatever complexity of motives there may have been - for we
know nothing of the circumstances, and there may have been that in the conduct
or heart of the lawyer which was specially touched by what had just passed -
there can be no doubt as to the main object of his question: 'But who is my
neighbour?' He wished 'to justify himself,' in the sense of vindicating his
original question, and showing that it was not quite so easily settled as the
answer of Jesus seemed to imply. And here it was that Christ could in a
'Parable' show how far orthodox Judaism was from even a true understanding,
much more from such perfect observance of this Law as would gain heaven. Thus
might He bring even this man to feel his shortcomings and sins, and awaken in
him a sense of his great need. This, of course, would be the negative aspect of
this Parable; the positive is to all time and to all men.
That question: 'Who is my neighbour?' has ever been at the same
time the outcome of Judaism (as distinguished from the religion of the Old
Testament), and also its curse. On this point it is duty to speak plainly, even
in face of the wicked persecutions to which the Jews have been exposed on
account of it. Whatever modern Judaism may say to the contrary, there is a
foundation of truth in the ancient heathen charge against the Jews of odium
generis humani (hatred of mankind). God had separated Israel unto Himself
by purification and renovation - and this is the original meaning of the word
'holy' and 'sanctify' in the Hebrew (#dq). They separated themselves in
self-righteousness and pride - and that is the original meaning of the word
'Pharisee' and 'Pharisaism' (#wrp). In so saying no blame is cast on
individuals; it is the system which is at fault. This question: 'Who is my
neighbour?' frequently engages Rabbinism. The answer to it is only too clear.
If a hypercriticism were to interpret away the passage14
which directs that idolators are not to be delivered when in imminent danger,
while heretics and apostates are even to be led into it, the painful discussion
on the meaning of Exod. xxiii. 515
would place it beyond question. The sum of it is, that, except to avert
hostility, a burden is only to be unloaded, if the beast that lieth under it
belongeth to an Israelite, not if it belong to a Gentile; and so the
'the ass of him that hateth thee,' must be understood of a Jewish, and not of a
Gentile enemy ()lw l)r#y )nw# h~) )nw#).17
14. Ab Zar. 26 a.
15. Babha Mets 32 b.
16. Ex. xxiii. 5.
17. Babha Mets. 32 b line 3 from bottom.
It is needless to follow the subject further. But more complete
rebuke of Judaistic narrowness, as well as more full, generous, and spiritual
world-teaching than that of Christ's Parable could not be imagined. The scenery
and colouring are purely local. And here we should remember, that, while
admitting the lawfulness of the widest application of details for homiletical
purposes, we must take care not to press them in a strictly exegetical
18. As to many of these allegorisations, Calvin rightly observes: 'Scripturae major habenda est reverentia, quam ut germanum ejus sensum hac licentia transfigurare liceat.' In general, see Goebel, u. s.
Some one coming from the Holy City, the Metropolis of Judaism,
is pursuing the solitary desert-road, those twenty-one miles to Jericho, a
district notoriously insecure, when he 'fell among robbers, who, having both
stripped and inflicted on him strokes, went away leaving him just as he was,19
half dead.' This is the first scene. The second opens with an expression which,
theologically, as well as exegetically, is of the greatest interest. The word
rendered 'by chance' (sugkuria)
occurs only in this place,20
for Scripture commonly views matters in relation to agents rather than to
results. As already noted,21
the real meaning of the word is 'concurrence,' much like the corresponding
Hebrew term (hrqm). And better definition could not be given, not, indeed,
of 'Providence,' which is a heathen abstraction for which the Bible has no
equivalent, but for the concrete reality of God's providing. He provides
through a concurrence of circumstances, all in themselves natural and in the
succession of ordinary causation (and this distinguishes it from the miracle),
but the concurring of which is directed and overruled by Him. And this helps us
to put aside those coarse tests of the reality of prayer and of the direct rule
of God, which men sometimes propose. Such stately ships ride not in such
19. 'hmiqanh tugcanonta, Germ., wie er
eben war,' Grimm, Clavis N.T. p. 438 b.
20. I cannot (as some writers do) see any irony in the expression.
21. Vol. i. p. 560.
It was by such a 'concurrence,' that, first a priest, then a
Levite came down that road, when each, successively, 'when he saw him, passed
by over against (him).' It was the principle of questioning, 'Who is my
neighbour?' which led both priest and Levite to such heartless conduct. Who
knew what this wounded man was, and how he came to lie there: and were they
called upon, in ignorance of this, to take all the trouble, perhaps incur the
risk of life, which care of him would involve? Thus Judaism (in the persons of
its chief representatives) had, by its exclusive attention to the letter, come
to destroy the spirit of the Law. Happily, there came yet another that way, not
only a stranger, but one despised, a semi-heathen Samaritan.22
He asked not who the man was, but what was his need. Whatever the wounded Jew
might have felt towards him, the Samaritan proved a true 'neighbour.' 'He came
towards him, and beholding him, he was moved with compassion.' His resolution
was soon taken. He first bound up his wounds, and then, taking from his
travelling provision wine and oil, made of them, what was regarded as the
common dressing for wounds.23
Next, having 'set' (lifted) him on his own beast, he walked by his side, and
brought him to one of those houses of rest and entertainment, whose designation
(pandoceion) has passed into
Rabbinic language ()qdnwp). These khans, or hostelries, by the side of
unfrequented roads, afforded free lodgment to the traveller. But generally they
also offered entertainment, in which case, of course, the host, commonly a non-Israelite,
charged for the victuals supplied to man or beast, or for the care taken. In
the present instance the Samaritan seems himself to have tended the wounded man
all that evening. But even thus his care did not end. The next morning, before
continuing his journey, he gave to the host two dinars - about one shilling and
threepence of our money, the amount of a labourer's wages for two days,24
- as it were, two days' wages for his care of him, with this provision, that if
any further expense were incurred, either because the wounded man was not
sufficiently recovered to travel, or else because something more had been
supplied to him, the Good Samaritan would pay it when he next came that way.
22. In the Greek, ver. 33 begins with 'A Samaritan, however,' to emphasise the contrast to the priest and Levite.
23. Jer. Ber. 3 a; Shabb. 134 a.
24. St. Matt. xx. 2.
So far the Parable: its lesson 'the lawyer' is made himself to
enunciate. 'Which of these three seems to thee to have become neighbour of him
that fell among the robbers?' Though unwilling to take the hated name of
Samaritan on his lips, especially as the meaning of the Parable and its
anti-Rabbinic bearing were so evident, the 'lawyer' was obliged to reply, 'He
that showed mercy on him,' when the Saviour finally answered, 'Go, and do thou
Some further lessons may be drawn. The Parable implies not a
mere enlargement of the Jewish ideas, but a complete change of them. It is
truly a Gospel-Parable, for the whole old relationship of mere duty is changed
into one of love. Thus, matters are placed on an entirely different basis from
that of Judaism. The question now is not 'Who is my neighbour?' but 'Whose neighbour
am I?' The Gospel answers the question of duty by pointing us to love. Wouldst
thou know who is thy neighbour? Become a neighbour to all by the utmost service
thou canst do them in their need. And so the Gospel would not only abolish
man's enmity, but bridge over man's separation. Thus is the Parable truly
Christian, and, more than this, points up to Him Who, in our great need, became
Neighbour to us, even at the cost of all He had. And from Him, as well as by
His Word, are we to learn our lesson of love.
2. The Parable which follows in St. Luke's narrative25
seems closely connected with that just commented upon. It is also a story of a
good neighbour who gives in our need, but presents another aspect of the truth
to which the Parable of the Good Samaritan had pointed. Love bends to our need:
this is the objective manifestation of the Gospel. Need looks up to love, and
by its cry elicits the boon which it seeks. And this is the subjective
experience of the Gospel. The one underlies the story of the first Parable, the
other that of the second.
25. St. Luke xi. 5-13.
Some such internal connection between the two Parables seems,
indeed, indicated even by the loose manner in which this second Parable is
strung to the request of some disciples to be taught what to pray.26
Like the Parable of the 'Good Samaritan,' it is typical, and its application
would be the more felt, that it not only points to an exemplification, but
appeals to every man's consciousness of what himself would do in certain given
circumstances. The latter are as follows. A man has a friend who, long after
nightfall, unexpectedly comes to him from a journey. He has nothing in the
house, yet he must provide for his need, for hospitality demands it.
Accordingly, though it be so late, he goes to his friend and neighbour to ask
him for three loaves, stating the case. On the other hand, the friend so asked
refuses, since, at that late hour, he has retired to bed with his children, and
to grant his request would imply not only inconvenience to himself, but the
disturbing of the whole household. The main circumstances therefore are:
Sudden, unthought-of sense of imperative need, obliging to make what seems an
unseasonable and unreasonable request, which, on the face of it, offers
difficulties and has no claim upon compliance. It is, therefore, not ordinary
but, so to speak, extraordinary prayer, which is here alluded to.
26. ver. 1.
To return to the Parable: the question (abruptly broken off
from the beginning of the Parable in ver. 5), is what each of us would do in
the circumstances just detailed. The answer is implied in what follows.27
It points to continued importunity, which would at last obtain what it needs.
'I tell you, even if he will not give him, rising up, because he is his friend,
yet at least28
on account of his importunity, he will rise up and give him as many as he
needeth.' This literal rendering will, it is hoped, remove some of the seeming
difficulties of the Parable. It is a gross misunderstanding to describe it as
presenting a mechanical view of prayer: as if it implied, either that
God was unwilling to answer; or else, that prayer, otherwise unheard, would be
answered merely for its importunity. It must be remembered, that he who is
within is a friend, and that, under circumstances, he would at once have
complied with the request. But, in this case, there were special difficulties,
which are represented as very great; it is midnight; he has retired to bed, and
with his children; the door is locked. And the lesson is, that where, for some
reasons, there are, or seem, special difficulties to an answer to our prayers
(it is very late, the door is no longer open, the children have already been
gathered in), the importunity arising from the sense of our absolute need, and
the knowledge that He is our Friend, and that He has bread, will ultimately
prevail. The difficulty is not as to the giving, but as the giving then
- 'rising up,' and this is overcome by perseverance, so that (to return to the
Parable), if he will not rise up because he is his friend, yet at least he will
rise because of his importunity, and not only give him 'three' loaves, but, in
general, 'as many as he needeth.'
27. ver. 8.
28. dia ge, Goebel, ad loc.
So important is the teaching of this Parable, that Christ makes
detailed application of it. In the circumstances described a man would persevere
with his friend, and in the end succeed. And, similarly, the Lord bids us
'ask,' and that earnestly and believingly; 'seek,' and that energetically and
instantly; 'knock,' and that intently and loudly. Ask - He is a Friend, and we
shall 'receive;' 'seek,' it is there, and we shall 'find;' 'knock,' - our need
is absolute, and it shall be opened to us. But the emphasis of the Parable and
its lesson are in the word 'every one' (paV).
Not only this or that, but 'every one,' shall so experience it. The word
points to the special difficulties that may be in the way of answer to prayer -
the difficulties of the 'rising up,' which have been previously indicated in
the Parable. These are met by perseverance which indicates the reality of our
need ('ask'), the reality of our belief that the supply is there ('seek'), and
the intensity and energy of our spiritual longing ('knock'). Such importunity
applies to 'every one,' whoever he be, and whatever the circumstances
which would seem to render his prayer specially difficult of answer. Though he
feel that he has not and needs, he 'ask;' though he have lost - time,
opportunities, mercies - he 'seek;' though the door seem shut, he 'knocks.'
Thus the Lord is helper to 'every one;' but, as for us, let us learn the lesson
from what we ourselves would do in analogous circumstances.
Nay, more than this, God will not deceive by the appearance of
what is not reality. He will even give the greatest gift. The Parabolic
relation is now not that of friends, but of father and son. If the son asks for
bread, will the father give what seems such, but is only a stone? If he asks
for a fish, will he tender him what looks such, but is a serpent? If he seek an
egg, will he hand to him what breeds a scorpion? The need, the hunger, of the child
will not, in answer to its prayer, receive at the Father's Hands, that which
seems, but gives not the reality of satisfaction - rather is poison. Let us
draw the inference. Such is our conduct - how much more shall our heavenly
Father give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. That gift will not disappoint
by the appearance of what is not reality; it will not deceive either by the
promise of what it does not give, or by giving what would prove fatal. As we
follow Christ's teaching, we ask for the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, in
leading us to Him, leads us into all truth, to all life, and to what satisfies