Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10:30-37 NLT
You’ve probably read that parable many times before, or at least heard the story or a reference to it. I love it because Jesus tells it in a way that infers biblical knowledge. You can relate to the story even if you’ve never read the Bible but if you can understand the significance of a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan other than the fact that it sounds like a bad joke, you know your Bible better than the average Joe.
Usually when this parable is told we find ourselves answering Jesus’ question from the perspective of the Samaritan, we think we would be the one who would do right by the dying man on the road. This morning I heard that story from the perspective of the dying man.
The priest was on his way back to his hometown after performing a purification ritual at the temple – a process that can take up to seven days. Helping the man on the side of the road would make him unclean and he’d have to do the ritual again. That’s a huge inconvenience!
The passage I shared above says ‘temple assistant’ but other translations call him a Levite. He’s like a priest in training, a junior pastor if you will. He walks by the dying man for what most of us would admit is a good reason – there’s danger on that road, bandits would hide on it and rob and sometimes even kill those they capture. Furthermore, he’s trying to be clean like the priest and touching someone who is bleeding would make him unclean.
The Samaritan on the other hand is a despised enemy of the Jews! He represents a bad part of Jewish history when the Jews married gentiles (a big no-no in Old Testament times). He would be a sworn enemy of the Jews who would at times try to defile the temple with the blood of what the Jews considered the most unclean of all animals – the pig. This guy is the guy who stops to help and this guy is the one Jesus says to be like.
The dying man. We don’t know what his story is other than that he was attacked by the robbers mentioned in the passage. He was left for dead and he probably seen that a priest walked right by him. Think of your pastor walking by and you were the man laying on the road – bleeding. Then a guy who you know works in the temple does the same thing, leaves you there. Then, your sworn enemy comes strolling down the road and he actually stops, helps you, nurses you back to health and pays for your safe place to stay while you heal.
The reason Jesus says that we should be like the Samaritan is because we are the sworn enemy of God. What with all of our sin, and our pride and selfishness. Jesus is the man on the side of the road, bleeding for the sins of the world, your sin and mine. More often than not we are the priests and the Levites who walk by someone in need and deny them help in favor of our self preservation.
Understanding that we are all sinners, not one better than another is the first step. The next step is to help those who need it, no matter who they are. The final step is to accept what Jesus offers – to be the one who bleeds and dies in our place.