Historical Cultural Context
Luke's Jesus & the Samaritans
While Matthew’s Jesus commands his disciples to “enter no town of the Samaritans” (Mt 10:5), Luke’s Jesus rebukes these same disciples who would call down fire from heaven upon inhospitable Samaritans (Lk 9:55). He rejects this “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” mentality.
Further, Luke creates and inserts a “good” Samaritan into a story whose traditional cultural progression required a Judean layperson as the third character, after the priest and Levite (Lk 10:25-37).
In addition, Luke’s Jesus exhibits special sensitivity to the Samaritan leper among the ten cleansed (Lk 17:11-19) by omitting the recommendation of “offering the prescribed sacrifice” as in Matthew 8:2. The Samaritan gift would not be welcome in the Jerusalem Temple.
Finally, in Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 Luke adopts a clever strategy to persuade alienated kin—Samaritans and Judeans—to be reconciled. In Luke’s story line the Samaritans believed the word preached by the Hellenist Philip but received the Spirit from the Judeans Peter and John.
This artificial separation of the Spirit from baptism is Luke’s intentional strategy for stirring Samaritan respect for and loyalty to Jerusalem and Judeans. It also aims at improving understanding between Judeans and Samaritans.
For contemporary American believers, this thumbnail sketch of historical relationships between Judeans and Samaritans and Luke’s masterful efforts at reconciliation poses this challenge: should we allow cultural and historical differences to divide us? Is there only one way to serve God? or to love Jesus? or to be Christian?
Who or what can help us appreciate the integral and rightful place in the Christian community of those culturally different from us?
John J. Pilch
John J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published fourteen books by Pilch exploring the cultural world of the Bible
**From Saint Louis University