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The Theme of Caring for The Outsider in The Good Samaritan

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This essay will conduct an exegesis of the Sacred Text “The Good Samaritan” and explore the theme of caring for the outsider. This is exhibited throughout the controversial artwork by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, ‘Haunting’, which highlights the tragedy of failing to uphold the sanctity of human life. The artwork articulates this by the artist posing as a lifeless Syrian infant who drowned after attempting to seek refuge. The worlds behind, of and in front of the sacred text are to be critically analysed to illustrate the theme of caring for the outsider. Sacred texts convey timeless ethical and moral messages about the treatment of others, which are still relevant and imperative in contemporary society.

In a column in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine outlines the importance of understanding the times and concerns of first-century Judea to comprehend the complete significance of the story (Levine, 2012). The parable of the Good Samaritan takes place on a road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The landscape of Israel positions Jerusalem geographically higher than Jericho, meaning that the road gradually becomes steeper on this journey. Travelling down this road to Jericho leads to sheer desert terrain, with its surroundings consisting of large barren hills and small mountains. Due to this, people would often be robbed of their possessions along this stretch road. During this time, the Jewish Social Structure was divided into a cultural and social hierarchy. The priest in this parable would have had a high social status, meaning that he was most likely riding on a donkey during his travel. The Jewish temple in Israel, which was located at Jerusalem, had strict laws prohibiting priests within two metres of a corpse. This meant that if the man was dead and the priest were to touch him, he would be considered ritually unclean and forbidden from entering the temple. Priests were required to resolve this by buying and sacrificing a heifer, meaning he would have had to return to Jerusalem to purchase one. However, the priest still could have assisted the man as Jewish people regard the preservation of life above the observance of law (Stower et al, 2017). Furthermore, the text describes the priest as “going down that road”, implying that he was going away from Jerusalem, the place where the temple was located. Levities were considered priests as their main obligations were to teach the Torah and pour oil and wine on offerings to prepare for sacrifice, meaning that Jewish law was less strict for them. Despite this however, the Levite did not want to become unclean as his job would have required his presence in the temple. During Jesus’ time, Samaritans were the despised enemies of the Jews as “the literature of each betrays an attitude of hostility toward the other”. The Samaritan of this parable is travelling in Judean territory, meaning that he is in more danger than the priest or Levite were and has more reasons not to assist the man who is likely Jewish. Moreover, as the parable is set in Judah the inn that the Samaritan takes the man to is Jewish. This illustrates another risk the Samaritan had taken because if anyone from the inn recognised him, a violent uproar could have occurred. Lack of adequate medical resources during this era resulted in wine and oil being commonly used to wash and disinfect wounds.

The fact the Samaritan poured his own wine and oil, which were considered precious and revered during Jesus’ time, on this man who he didn’t know exemplifies the sacred text’s theme of caring for the outsider. The intention of Luke’s sacred text was to demonstrate how Jesus’ behaviour regularly cut across the narrow views exhibited by the Book of Sirach, which was considered an expression of Jewish ‘wisdom’ written around 200 B.C. (Fallon, 2013). Michael Fallon (2013) described the Book of Sirach as a “kind of Catechism for behaviour for many Jews at the time of Jesus”, which proposed that one’s neighbour is a Jew who is devout and observant. Jesus’ teachings commonly used homely analogies and folk tales to explain God’s behaviour or the Kingdom of Heaven. The parable of “The Good Samaritan” offers a vision of life rather than death. Jesus tells story of man who is robbed, stripped, beaten and left half dead by side of road. Michael Fallon (2013) also articulated in his homily that all we find out about this person is that he is a man, illustrating that that is enough to be considered a ‘neighbour’. The priest feels no need to assist the man as it’s not clear that he is his ‘neighbour’ whom he has the obligation to help. Furthermore, Jesus also outlines the hypocrisy of the Levite pouring on sacrifices but not the man in need. The priest, Levite and Samaritan all saw the man, but the text describes the Samaritan as being “moved by pity” (Luke 10:33). Jesus often used this phrase before healing as it refers to a deep level of compassion in one’s being. Following the plot development of the parable, it was expected that the third person to encounter the man would be an Israelite. However, the story takes an unexpected twist and shock’s Jesus’ audience when the hero is a Samaritan. The lawyer who originally questioned Jesus at the beginning of this sacred text would hate Samaritans as they were ostracised by the Jerusalem establishment (Beitzel, 2006). However, when Jesus askes him who was the neighbour in the parable, he is forced to follow the moral example of a Samaritan in Jesus’ stor.

Modern viewing and interpretation of this sacred text ensures that the core themes established by the parable remains relevant in a contemporary context. The appropriation of the text for new contexts is inevitable as the hermeneutic of this parable varies in different times and for different audiences. Students of Jewish Scripture recognises central values of love, but have values aligned differently than someone of Christian faith which coincide with the Good Samaritan. The profound meaning of this sacred text is to love one’s neighbour as oneself and manifest that love into action. This is expressed by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine (2012), who insists that the text instructs that “Not only must we love our enemies, but also we should provide free medical services to foreign nationals.” In addition, Michael Fallon (2013) also stated that “If we truly want the life that comes from God, we have no option but to do what the Samaritan did”. It is evident that there is no place for prejudice or sectarianism, as well as avoiding demands of love by hiding behind laws that regulate relationship with God. Although this mindset appears simple, people often find excuses like the priest and Levite for avoiding social issues. Understanding this reality allows the powerful message of the parable to come through, which “insists that enemies can prove to be neighbours, that compassion has no boundaries, and that judging people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity will leave us dying in a ditch.”.

‘Haunting’ is an artwork by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei that expresses the “Good Samaritan’s” theme of caring for the outsider. Within this artwork, Ai Weiwei has posed as the drowned Syrian infant refugee Alan Kurdi to create a powerful recreation of the event as an artistic statement. During September 2015, multiple images of the Syrian infant washed up on Turkish shores went viral causing global sorrow and outrage. This event caused the world’s societies to be divided, as many countries felt like they had to ability to prevent the boy and his family from drowning by accepting them as their neighbour. The contemporary text speaks to the value of caring for an outsider because although many of us cannot relate to Alan Kurdi’s experiences within Syria, society still cared immensely upon the release of these images. Ai Weiwei acknowledged this, which prompted him to create this art piece on January 31st, 2016 to convey the complete tragedy of the infant’s death after only wishing to seek refuge. The central aspect of this art piece is Ai Weiwei posing as the child in the exact same position Alan Kurdi was in when he was photographed. This releases various upsetting emotions further illustrating our care for an outsider. Both the analysed sacred text and this contemporary artwork depict an outsider which requires immediate assistance but is ignored despite the capabilities of providing aid. The sacred text “The Good Samaritan” articulates the theme of caring for the outsider by contextually utilising the events during the type of when it was written, as well as providing a thought-provoking narrative. By acknowledging these factors, the messages embedded in the sacred text proved to be relevant by modern interpretation. Parallels from the sacred text’s theme are also evident by contemporary texts, which illustrate the outsiders still not receiving the care they deserve. Therefore, sacred texts convey timeless ethical and moral messages about the treatment of others, and which are still relevant and imperative in contemporary society.

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