A Lamenting Samaritan

Written by T.M. Suffield |
Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Lamentations describes Yahweh in the language of enemies time and time again, and goes back-and-forth with the appropriateness of this designation. It asks us difficult questions about whether God did this terrible thing to them, and even though it’s clear that it’s deserved, it questions whether it’s gratuitous and causes us to wonder what we think of a God who wounds his people.

Lamentations is a difficult book. I’ve been reading through it with my Bible reading group recently and it’s heavy going.

There’s much to gain, but when you read through it in your mornings you can slide through it fairly quickly. When you spend a few hours per chapter slowly chewing it over around a table the emotional weight of it starts to settle on you like a heavy blanket, and the challenging questions it raises cannot be ignored.

For all it’s been challenging, I’ve been particularly struck by the echoes of the rest of scripture we’ve pulled out together. It’s a poetic book that heavily references the prophets, the Psalms and the Torah, so in that sense it’s replete with intertextual references, but it’s the New Testament echoes that I’ve found most interesting.

In chapter 2, a chapter that expresses the destruction of Jerusalem and particularly the Temple in biting anger, there are some fascinating Christian readings available that open the text to us.

We might read verse 12 in light of the Lord’s Supper, or verse 13 a call for healing from the dragons Jesus slew at the cross, but it’s 14-16 I’d like to call particular attention too.

In the narrative the poet has enumerated the desolation of the city and the Temple in excruciating detail, and they move on to explore three potential healers, none of whom can heal the city or the people because the Lord has done what he purposed (verse 17).

We were discussing the way Kenneth Bailey thinks that Mark deliberately echoes this section of Lamentations in Mark 15.29-30, which I find persuasive, and my friend Elly pointed out that it sounds like the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I’m not sure that Luke had Lamentations 2 in mind as he retold Jesus’ parable, but I think Elly is right that these texts can be read fruitfully together. Let me show you what I mean.

The Parable

A man is travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he falls foul of a group of thieves and robbers. He’s left beaten and bloody on the roadside. We’re told he’s half dead, and without help he will be wholly dead before long.

His situation is not that different from the sort of language the poet in using in Lamentations’ second poem. Three people pass the traveller by. Three groups are presented as healers for Jerusalem, at least one of whom is said to pass by.

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