In this response essay, which culminates with an application of my theory of narrative empathy to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I comment on an article by Cornelis Bennema and engage with the ideas in the framing, introductory essay by Jan Rüggemeier and Elizabeth E. Shively. In the course of carrying out these tasks, I also offer what I hope will be broadly useful comments on fictional and nonfictional contexts for character construction, on characters and characterization, and on the way diverse actual readers engage with characters. This essay concludes with some thoughts on narrative empathy, responding to the final section of Rüggemeier and Shively’s essay, which offers comprehensive overview of empathy and sympathy as aspects of emotional reading.
This study employs an array of cognitive linguistic (cl) models to reveal some of the details in how contemporary readers understand and interpret characters in a New Testament parable, the one often tagged “The Good Samaritan.” It also uses cognitive narrative analysis to explore how Luke constructs and develops the dialog partners in the pericope and the characters in the parable. The larger goal is to use cl to reveal some of the ways in which meanings are evoked, constructed, constrained and opened up. The parable is embedded in a larger narrative and immediate co-text, its characters selected from the stock of Lukan personae. The study explains how narrative spaces are built up; how characters serve as anchors and links to the larger narrative; and how viewpoint shifts proliferate as the story unfolds.
The Lukan narrator makes Jesus’ viewpoint clear: “Do this, and you will live!” Readers are implicitly invited to identify with the compassionate character of the parable and emulate him. But the opening question and closing dialog shape the parable’s point, expanding its trajectory beyond mere moral rule revision or definitions of “neighbor” or even of “good” character. This parable allows readers to imagine with Luke a way of life lived in the light of the new epoch Jesus is announcing and inaugurating.