Willson speaker encourages believers to follow Jesus' example

March 2, 2011

PLAINVIEW – In His parable about the “Good Samaritan,” Jesus gives the perfect example of what it means to love outcasts. In the first of his two Willson Lectures at Wayland Baptist University, New Testament scholar Dr. David Garland dug down deeper into the parable to explain what that means.

Garland, who is dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco and Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures, shared his insights on the parable from Luke’s Gospel during a Tuesday night banquet to open the annual lecture series.

“The magic of parables is that they give us a glimpse of the transcendent from the lens of the ordinary,” Garland said in his opening.

While the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer might have looked like a casual exchange about eternal life and neighborly behavior, Garland said the parable sheds more light on the cultural biases of the day and the question of character.

The lawyer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is meant to put Jesus to the test, and the Messiah turns it back around by asking him how the law is written. The man’s answer focuses on the passages from Deuteronomy about loving God fully and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. And he is correct. But he wishes to test Jesus more, so he questions “Who is my neighbor?”

Garland said the question is not asked out of a desire to serve but out of the lawyer’s desire to build additional boundaries and limits of the law that he must follow. According to his cultural customs, “neighbor” would have a more narrow definition than Jesus intended, and the parable that follows illustrates that belief.

While the priest and the Levite pass the beaten and robbed man on the other side of the road and refuse to help, it is the Samaritan who takes pity and helps the man out, providing even additional resources to ensure the man’s recovery and comfort. Garland points out that the Samaritan’s presence would have been unexpected to hearers of the parable and Jesus further turns the story around.

“Samaritans understand themselves to be under the same Mosaic law as the Israelites,” Garland said. “He had no way of knowing who the man was or what he was. (At the end of the parable) Jesus requires the answer of ‘Who is my neighbor’ from the perspective of the man in need, which is a twist Jesus often invokes in His parables in Luke.”

The question then becomes whether a Jew in need would allow help from a Samaritan, for whom they had little respect.

Garland said the theological conclusions from the parable include the pointlessness of the lawyer’s question to Jesus, since one cannot do anything to receive an inheritance: “He is either an heir or he isn’t.” Garland said the question also reflects a misconception on the lawyer’s part about what eternal life is, seeming to miss the point of the relationship with God that begins in this life.

The common takeaway from the parable is that believers should behave more like the Samaritan, who asked no questions of the injured man but simply rendered aid. But Garland shines light more on the initial question of the lawyer, pointing out that believers must see mankind as a whole as their neighbors as Jesus often modeled.

“This story really leads people to realize the ‘kin-dom’ of God that includes all fellow travelers on this journey,” he said. “Love your neighbor is not a slogan or a proverb; it is a divine command.”

Garland also spoke at Wednesday’s chapel service and afterward for a lunch gathering of ministerial students at Wayland. He also participated in a question and answer forum on Wednesday afternoon with students and faculty members.