Who do you see?

 
Luke 10:25-37 (Psalm 25:1-10, Colossians 1:1-14)
 
In James Cameron’s blockbuster movie, Avatar, the alien race is called the Na’vi.They have a saying which translates as “I see you.” However, as the movie frequently stresses, this means more than meets the eye – it means “I see the love, and your feelings, and your soul, and you mean everything to me.”
 
There is that very Na’vi sense of ‘seeing’ in Jesus; most especially when he is “moved with pity” (splanchnizomai) at the plight of those he encounters (for example Mark 6:34).  Splanchnizomai describes a stomach-churning, physical reaction to suffering, to which the word “pity” barely does justice.  Jesus truly “sees” people.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we encounter those who clearly do not ‘see,” and one who does. Most obviously, the priest and the Levite do not see the man who “fell into the hands of robbers” (Luke 10:30). Sure, they notice him, but they don’t see him.  All sorts of clever interpretations wrestle with the how and why of passing by on the other side of the road (vs. 31-32) – including the argument that these ritualistic “clean” Temple workers could not risk becoming unclean/impure by touching a dead body. And, to be sure, that takes us into the depths of the question of who is pure and who is impure. But the deeper question is this: who can see and who cannot?
 
On the one hand, the parable teaches us that love can be scandalous, and multifaceted: it was the hated Samaritan who showed mercy, and his care for the Jewish victim included touching, carrying away to safety, housing him, ensuring his needs were addressed, and promising to return. And, as one author points out, “By its nature, authentic love meets the needs of others.” True also, this parable reminds us to embrace any and all opportunities to practice love – even in surprising contexts and situations. However, don’t lose sight of the lawyer with whom this parable begins:
 
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (10:25-29)
 
Superficially, he’s a nice guy. He knows the Mosaic Law found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Yet he does not live it! Heart, soul, strength, mind: kardia (responsive emotion); psyche (vitality and consciousness); ischys (powerfully instinctive); dianoia (intelligence, reasoning, planning). In other words, love with the totality of your very being! If the lawyer truly loved God and neighbor with heart, soul, strength and mind, he would not try to limit that love. You see, the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (vs. 29) – the very question upon which the parable is predicated – reveals that the lawyer seeks to limit who he must love. In his attempt to justify (vindicate) himself, he seeks to narrow the scope of the object of his love. And so, arguably, the one who most conspicuously fails to “see,” is not the priest, nor the Levite, but the lawyer.