Sorry about the lax blogging lately. It’s not that I’ve been away or busy or anything, I just haven’t been inspired to write anything. I actually don’t even have anything that I want to say now, but I thought “Hey, maybe I’ll go type a post and see what comes out.” ….hmmmm…..hmmmmmm…….well, this isn’t working out to be nearly as creative and interesting as I thought it might.
Here’s something. I was over at Doug’s blog the other day (check him out on the sidebar) and ran across a post about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have, over the last little while, begun to appreciate this parable as one of the stranger and more complex parables of the Gospels (though by no means the most…parable of the talents anyone?). We think that the PotGS is simple…you know, love your neighbor, show mercy, blah, blah, blah. This is, however, far from the truth. It’s really a far more writerly parable than it appears at first glance (writerly=intentionally complicated, i.e. a work written to be deciphered by writers not just readers…cf. Roland Barthes).
The story of the PotGS begins with a scribe asking Jesus about the way to heaven (how’s this for a typically human question…”Jesus, how is that I might save mine own ass using religion?”) and Jesus’ response is that the scribe must love God and his neighbor. “But who is my neighbor?” is the classic cop-out answer. Then comes the parable. We all know the story, so I won’t paraphrase. At the end of the parable the Samaritan outsider is the hero of the story and has clearly shown mercy to the injured man. Then Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Lk. 10:36 NRSV). The scribe answers that it was “the one who showed him mercy” to which Jesus replies “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37 NRSV).
The simplest, first level response is to read this as a story about being nice to people. But wait…what was the original question again? “Who is my neighbor?” “The one who showed him mercy.” Does this mean that we are to love those who show us mercy?
But wait again! “The one who showed him mercy”…”go and do likewise.” Does this mean we are to go and show mercy?
But wait again!! The Samaritan is a social, religious and political outsider, the quintessential Other. Does this mean we are to love the one we most want to hate?
I would argue that all of these readings (and perhaps many others) are completely legitimate and equally present in this text. It is far too tempting for us to fall into one-dimensional, simplistic readings of a given story. Though I don’t think that the interpretive options for a given text are completely open-ended, which is to say infinite, I would argue that the number of legitimate interpretations is indeterminate. Though there are boundaries that we can set around meaning, boundaries that include syntax, context, semantics (though this one is rather complicated), even psychology, these boundary markers are (I think) set wider than many of us would be comfortable with. What most people, particularly most modernist Christians (both liberals and conservatives), want is a single, authoritative meaning. If you’re one of those people I don’t know what to tell you. Tough luck. At some point we all need to learn to live in the interpretive, hermeneutical joy of indeterminate meaning.
Or you could simply ignore me completely as the title for this post claims that I am writing about nothing at all.