And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 10:25
Stood Up – We all know this story. In our familiarity, we rush to the end, proclaiming the ethical superiority of the Samaritan. We are anxious to include everyone in the category of “neighbor.” But our familiarity causes us to actually overlook crucial elements of this storytelling event, elements that reframe the entire episode, elements that would have been straightforwardly obvious to any first century Jewish audience. Let’s read the story again and see what we find.
We could start with the opening words – “and behold.” Did you think that these were only odd ancient expressions of no consequence? Hardly. In Hebrew, the word would have been va-heni. This word is used dozens of times in the Tanakh to express strong feelings, surprise, expectation, vividness to the circumstances and, in particular, the declaration of a servant ready for his orders (“Behold me” or “Here I am”). Add this to the context of our event. Why is this surprising and why is the surprise important?
How did disciples and rabbis interact when lessons were to be learned? Physical position was an important element of respect and instruction. How could it be otherwise in a culture where actions expressed reality? Normally, a rabbi sat to teach and his disciples arranged themselves at his feet, maintaining a lower elevation than the teacher. This expected arrangement is implied in the scribe’s dismissal of protocol. Notice that the scribe stands up. His action signals his disrespect and portends his subtle but aggressive question. By standing, he notifies the crowd that he is no disciple. He is an inquisitor. He has come to test the teacher. Va-heni is like an explosive cannon shot at the opening of the event. Something is drastically wrong here. Something is not as expected. This scribe might as well have slapped Yeshua. His action says it all! “I have no respect for you. I have come to see if you are more clever than I. I will ask, and you will answer and then we will see who really knows what he is talking about.”
The West, especially the American West, pays little attention to social protocol. In fact, these days shock value seems to carry more weight in the culture. Social expectations are dissected with the scalpel of notoriety. In the process, the culture dies. Many followers of the Way realize the tragedy that lurks behind a bravado of flaunted etiquette. We feel the sting of insult and rebuke when our versions of this scribe deny God His proper status. In public, we decry the decay of humble regard for the divine. But when we are by ourselves, when we come before Him alone, do we stand up? Are we exposed as ones who attempt to put Him to the test? “Surely, no!” we exclaim. But perhaps we need to be more reflective. Are our demands to be given an explanation of His purposes not spoken while standing? Are our complaints about treatment in the world not lifted from a vertical position? Are our insistent prayers about our perceived needs thrown toward heaven while our feet are firmly planted on the earth? Is there a bit of the scribe in us too? Do our stories call for an opening of surprise?
Topical Index: Good Samaritan, stood up, behold, heni, Luke 10:25
NOTE on classes and meetings: I will be teaching a class on Apologetics in Evansville, IN from June 9-11 at Master’s International Divinity School. If you want to understand the difference between Greek apologetics and the Hebrew view of witness, I encourage you to attend. Contact the school fro details.
Following that class, I am flying to Seattle-Tacoma where I will be until June 13. If you are in that area and want to meet personally, just email me and I will see what we can arrange.