I mentioned earlier that I'm giving a small talk for a class. I've decided to give it on the Good Samaritan. I was going to give it on the sin of Hurry. And it still would have been on the Good Samaritan, but I was using the Priest and the Levite as examples of people who hurried and so missed the opportunity to be a blessing to a man in need. I had this great illustration I've been waiting to use for about 12 years, but then I realized they were most likely not in a hurry.
As I said, I'm reading the Bible through in 90 days (though now it is looking more like 112 days) and earlier this week I was in Leviticus and I came across Leviticus 21. Basically the chapter says priests are not to become unclean by touching a dead person unless he is a relative. So the priest was not supposed to touch the man who he probably took for dead or soon to be dead. If we give the priest the benefit of the doubt then we assume he saw the man, knew there was nothing he could do and so passed by on the other side of the road to make sure he did not become unclean. Also both he and the Levite were going down the road. I've always taken this to mean that they were going from Jericho to Jerusalem because on the map Jericho sits a little north of Jerusalem. I imagined them both rushing to work like I sometimes rush to the gym in the mornings. But Jerusalem is at a higher elevation and the man beset by robbers is going from Jerusalem down to Jericho. I looked it up, evidently there was a nice priests community in Jericho. They were both going home.
So I was thinking about all of this while doing the dishes and it didn't seem truthful to use them as an example of being in a hurry. It seems like I'd be reading too much into the text. Plus, I was bothered by the odd question that Jesus asks at the end of the text. "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of robbers?" So I was at a cross roads, I'd either have to find out what the parable really meant, or start looking in Proverbs for some scripture to back up what I was saying (This tip is courtesy of my brother-in-law, the youth pastor who said if you have a great sermon and you need some scripture to back it up, go to Proverbs. He meant that as a joke.) Honestly, my sermon illustration only works with the parable, so I decided to see what the parable was really saying. I poked around a little bit and found this. Among some other writings on the topic.
In the parable, The priest and levite represent the law, and perhaps the levite represents a law that has become corrupt because I can't find a justifiable reason for his not stopping, and I know both from a secular historical perspective and from the Bible that whatever was going on in the Temple was basically a farce. The Temple had become sort of a puppet religious arm of the Herodian dynasty. (I get this from Cahill's Desire of the Everlasting Hills. NTW I believe talks about it as well.) So now enters the Good Samaritan. He takes pity on the man. He bandages his wounds. He poors wine and olive oil. He puts him on his donkey. He takes him to an inn. He covers his expenses. By now I am throughly engrossed in this passage.
In the beginning the lawyer seeks to be justified by asking, "And who is my neighbor."So essentially, he asks, "So exactly who am I supposed to help." Jesus asks, in the end, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" Jesus twists the question but he asks the same one. He is asking the expert in the law, "who is your neighbor?" But by that question he is implying that the expert in the law is also the man who befell among robbers. And in this state the law cannot help him. He is in need of Christ who in the story comes in the form of the Good Samaritan. (Samaritans were hated by the Jews and Jesus was called a Samaritan because, well, he had enemies and that was a derogatory term Jews used.)
I like to think that the lawyer is humbled and contrite and deeply moved by what he has just heard. But I may be reading too much into the text. For all of his life he has tried to live up to the standard set before him in the law. And he indicates in the beginning that he gets it: The sum of the law is to love God and love others. I like to think that he isn't out to best Jesus, but test him to see if he really has something to offer. And Jesus delivers. Jesus tells this lawyer, that through (and this is where some might disagree) no fault of his own that he is in the position of the man beset by robbers, but he also delivers good news, that Christ has come to seek and to save. And now perhaps I am reading too much into the text, but my clue is in the end: The lawyer does not argue (imagine that), he simply answers, "The one who had mercy on him." Then Jesus offers what appears to me to be a benediction. He says, "Go and do likewise."
And so Jesus does Justify him. I believe in the end of this exchange that the expert in law is justified. Finally. He is made right with God. And from that relationship what had before been a burden becomes a delight because he knows the love of the father.