Read also A Good Neighbour, Part 1
In Part 1, I started talking about the question asked by a Jewish teacher to Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, and Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan—an extraordinary act of kindness that is still preached about today—you may know it. A Jew was travelling 30 kilometres from Jerusalem to Jericho by foot when he was beaten up by robbers. It was (and still is) a dangerous road where people were attacked before. It was referred to as ‘the way of blood’, no doubt because of the vast amount of blood that had been shed there by robbers over the years. I mean, it was a notoriously dangerous highway. Lots of bends in the road, perfect for robbers to hide and attack their prey. It was a scary road, not the best place to be on your own. And yet for some reason he was walking alone, and was attacked.
He was not only robbed but brutalised and left bloody, naked, and dying. Along the road came a priest. In that day priests served in the temple on a rotational basis. Most of them lived outside of Jerusalem, and many lived in Jericho. In fact Jericho had become a priestly city where priests and other temple personnel resided when they weren’t fulfilling their duty in the temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps priests and Levites had immunity from attack due to some superstition surrounding their calling—because they constantly travelled up and down this road.
He was coming away from Jerusalem. He had probably just been involved in some form of temple service. But suddenly he encountered this fellow Jew lying in a pool of blood, his life ebbing away. And—his reaction was instinctive. He “…passed by on the other side.” The Lord doesn’t tell us why he did this. But it’s easy to imagine what was going on. He was after all, a priest. And, according to Leviticus 21:1-4, contact with a dead body would be ceremonially contaminating and this victim was at least near death. The priest has already been away from home for a period of time pulling his shift in the temple and the ritual of cleansing after touching a dead body was costly and time consuming.
So, at the very least, involvement with this half-dead man would require a return to Jerusalem and the interruption of his plans. And we can understand the entanglement that involvement with ‘needy people’ causes. Helping other people can force us to face difficult—even dangerous—situations. We may not feel good about choosing the other side of the road, but we do feel a lot safer. Besides, others are usually better qualified at this kind of thing. Perhaps this priest thought that—maybe he told himself, “I’m a priest, not a paramedic.”
And then along comes another religious person, a Levite—and Levites had important roles in the service of the temple, although they did not serve at the altar. We don’t know why, but his response duplicated that of the priest. Perhaps he feared for his own safety (the robbers might still be in the vicinity), or maybe he too was afraid of being defiled—but understand, he didn’t stop and help because he couldn’t afford to. He walked by on the other side. Due to the position that religious leaders like priests and Levites held then, they both would have been men of above-average wealth and would have had the financial means to help. But they didn’t stop.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking these two were bad men. They were not necessarily bad. They were just busy. They were too busy working for God to care like God. The tale took an unusual twist in Luke 10, in verse 33, when Jesus said, “…but a Samaritan stopped and felt sorry for the man and went over to him…”. Please understand—when Jesus used these words he touched a raw nerve: the Samaritans were a mixed race. They were the descendants of people from other nations imported to Israel during the exile, who intermarried with the local Jewish population.
As such the Samaritans enjoyed the lowest rung on the Jewish social ladder of the day. They were hated by the Jews of ‘pure’ blood. You and I call this the story of the ‘good Samaritan’. But to the first-century Jew there was no such thing. They were a hated race. With this story, with the introduction of a Samaritan, Jesus deliberately and carefully shocked his audience, because in his story the unlikely hero did not pass by the wounded Jew—even though the pillars of Jewish religious society did.
The Samaritan allowed his feelings to lead to action. He bandaged the man’s wounds—probably tearing up his own garments for this purpose. He poured on wine to cleanse his wounds and oil to soothe the pain. Both of these elements were highly prized and expensive remedies in this day. Then he placed the man on his own donkey and led the animal down the hot, dusty road to an inn, which meant the Samaritan would have had to walk. And we should note that this was also an act of great courage. After all, this was Jewish territory and a Samaritan transporting the Jewish victim of a mugging would be subject to all kinds of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Once they got to the inn, the Samaritan continued to look after the man. Understand—this victim was a total stranger—a man of another race and religion—stripped and penniless. Yet the Samaritan’s compassion led him to assume responsibility for his future needs. In verse 35 he told the innkeeper, “When I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you have.” He said this with no plausible reason to believe there was any hope of recovering his expenditures. He was freely expressing undeserved and unexpected love to a person in need.
This should remind us that genuine neighbourly love means interrupting our schedule, putting aside our ‘to-do lists’, expending our money, ruining our property—even for a stranger. It should teach us that godly love is the compassion that feels, the care that involves, the commitment that endures.
Two religious leaders came across him and passed by, refusing to get involved. But then a third man, a Samaritan, stopped to give help, gave first aid and paid for him to stay somewhere. It was a true act of kindness. No wonder he is called the Good Samaritan.
(To be continued tomorrow in A Good Neighbour, Part 3)
Source: Redland Baptist Church, Rockville, Maryland, USA