“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:31-34 NASB)
And so, having stood, having attempted to ascertain the quality of the Son of God, and having felt the desire to “justify” himself, now the lawyer is challenged on his own quality. The core of this parable is that the hero is not the one the crowd or the lawyer are predisposed to like. The challenge is to call this hated one a “neighbor”. Neighbors are people we like, people like us, who live near us, who are “comfortable” even if annoying at times. Not a hated people group with a cultural history of animosity going back hundreds of years.
There are lots of applications of the way Jesus constructs this parable, some especially applicable to the culture of America in the 20th or even the 21st centuries. But there are European cultures for which this is true as well. Middle Eastern and Eastern peoples for whom this parable is especially hard, far more directly applicable than even for the USA. As it turns out, we’re actually not that interesting nor that intense compared to others after all. But there’s a personal challenge here.
The priest and Levite represented the religious establishment. A road to Jericho passed near by the Essene settlement at Qumran, a group who would have listened to this parable and really hated all three potential neighbors. They were already actively rejecting the religious establishment of Israel by this time. And there’s another element here. Jesus is Himself on His way to Jerusalem. He is planning on passing through Samaria. In fact He has recently been rejected by Samaritan villages because He was on His way to Jerusalem. The social/cultural tension is all around Him as the lawyer stands to test and as Jesus tells this parable.
I live in a city with an identity crisis. The pervasive hopelessness and perceived poverty run deep. But these perceptions are illusions. Unfortunately, these illusions seem to drive decisions in city hall, they seem to the major influence in community decisions, and when challenged to do or be more they form the responses of those who refuse the challenge. The desire of the people to have the expectations of others lowered to their comfort-level. And after a while, it becomes difficult to resist this desire. It’s easier to lower the expectations rather than fight to maintain the challenge to do and be more.
But the Samaritans, Levites, and priests mill about together grumbling and shuffling from discouragement to discouragement focused on what they don’t have. They take turns being the source of frustration for the community, striving to maintain the pecking order, smug that they are not the other two. It’s a common play acted on many stages across the country. And I have become convinced that small-town America is pretty enamored with this particular diversion. And so this parable is necessary. We need to hear it. And we need to begin living it.
The expectation should be that the priest, done with his duties in the temple, would stoop to help the wounded man. The expectation should be that the Levite, having finished the holy work at Jerusalem, would help the wounded man. And the expectation should be that the man representing a hated hating people group would stop and help the wounded man. There’s really no excuse for any of them not to help. That’s the surprising thing about the parable, the priest and Levite don’t help. It surprises the people and the lawyer. The next surprise is worse, the Samaritan does help. We all begin to win and our enemy begins to lose when all three become neighbors. The victory is achieved when we expect all three to be neighbors, and they are.
What do the three potential neighbors teach you?