The Norman Transcript


July 10, 2014

Where is the irony in the Gospels?

NORMAN — The Rev. Robert Lee Hill, Community Christian Church: Irony is a literary strategy involving word play, double entendre, sarcasm and/or dramatic reversals.

In narrative form, irony functions disruptively, overturning the applecart of our anticipations, upsetting our usual understandings of situations, characters in a story and world views.

Numerous instances of irony emerge in the New Testament: “For those who want to save their life will lose it ….” (Luke 9:24). “So the last will be first ….” (Matthew 20:16). “The stone that was rejected by ... the builders ... has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11). Through such ironic declarations, new worlds of possibilities are opened to those with ears (and hearts) to receive them.

While the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) may seem to current sensibilities like a moral directive — “Go and do likewise” — its greater power is found in its irony. The lawyer whose questions would test Jesus is himself tested by Jesus. Those who might seek to trap Jesus are themselves cornered into recognizing that a new master teacher has come to town.

Jesus answers the lawyer’s question about loving one’s neighbor by telling a story about a man who falls among robbers along the Jericho road. No one helps the man except a Samaritan who is moved by compassion.

Jesus’ original hearers would not have expected a hated enemy like a Samaritan to arise as a hero of any tale. They would have been hard pressed to ever put the words “good” and “Samaritan” together in one descriptive phrase. Through such tension, however, the parable functions to reshape how we expect neighbors to act and be.

A larger question for religious practitioners today is this: If the parable in Luke 10 were contemporized for our times, which surprising character or group would we be hard pressed to call “good?”

The Rev. Justin Hoye, St. Patrick Catholic Church: I would suggest the most significant irony in the Gospels is the crucifixion of Jesus.

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