A Priest, a Levite, and a….

Sunday, February 21, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Luke 10:25-42

The Good Samaritan. One of our most beloved and famous parables. We have churches, humanitarian organizations, singing groups, even laws named after the Good Samaritan. We teach it to our children in Sunday School, encouraging them to be a good neighbor by helping those in need.  The Samaritan shows mercy by caring for a dying man and Jesus tells us, “Go and do likewise.” The message is clear and inspiring.

But if you are like me, we sometimes we forget that Jesus and his followers lived in a different culture, spoke a different language and held an ancient worldview. And this parable was written down with first century readers in mind, not modern 21st century western readers like you and me. With all those differences, it is very easy to miss the subtleties that Jesus communicates.

So, what might we be missing? Is there anything else happening here? Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig a little deeper.

The parable begins with an expert in the Law of Moses coming to test Jesus. This rabbinic jousting was quite common. The lawyer had undoubtedly heard about this popular young rabbi and wanted to test his interpretation of Torah… what they called a rabbi’s YOKE.

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The Greek word translated life here is zoe. Like the girl’s name. The life it describes is one of abundance, or shalom.

“What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (The abundant kind of life. Zoe)

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Who is my neighbor?  Why does he ask this question?

Well, the lawyer wanted to justify himself, did you catch that? He may as well have asked, “Where do I draw the line on this whole neighbor thing?”

This was a HUGE debate raging in Israel at the time. Just WHO exactly qualifies as my neighbor?  Most scholars agreed, a Jewish person who lives nearby would qualify. As might someone who lives in the region. Even a foreigner living in Israel. But nobody – nobody – included a Samaritan.

So, Jesus began to tell a story.

30 “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

I had that chance to hike along the Jericho Road a while back. Between Jericho and Jerusalem, it stretches for 18 miles through mountains full of caves and crevices that bandits and wild animals love to hide out in. In places it is only 18 inches wide, hanging on the side of a cliff – and in other places ten feet wide.  One thing for certain…traveling on this road meant certain danger.

A traveler was attacked and stripped and beaten and left half dead on the road. You can just imagine the sand blowing and the sun beating down on him. Without water or food, never mind a phone or emergency patrol, he was as good as dead.

Thank goodness that right then a priest happened down the road. He saw him but passed by on the other side.  After a while a Levite came by, but he did the same thing.

You want to gasp in horror. These religious professionals had to practically crawl over him to pass by.

By now, we are on the edge of our seats. Jesus was using a common storytelling technique called a triad to structure the story. We know this technique too. Think:

  • Goldilocks and the three bears…
  • The butcher, the baker, the….. candlestick maker
  • Jesus, Mary and ….Joseph
  • A Priest, A Levite, and A… Israelite.

Everyone knew that the third person in that line up – the hero – would be the Israelite!

Jesus continued, but a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 

Wait, WHAT?  Did you say, a Samaritan??

The audience was stunned. A Samaritan!? Samaritans were not heroes. Samaritans were ENEMIES. A Jew would NEVER willingly associate with a Samaritan – they went to great lengths to avoid one another. In fact, immediately before this story in Luke’s gospel, the disciples wanted to destroy a Samaritan village by calling down fire from heaven.

When the Northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded and destroyed in 720 B.C., some of the Israelites stayed and intermarried with their Assyrian oppressors to form the Samaritans. The Jews considered their faith and bloodline impure. In fact, calling someone the “S” word (Samaritan) was an extreme insult.

If the man on the Jericho road was an Israeli Jew today, it would be a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank saving his life. It was shocking. Yet, this hated adversary took pity on him. It was the Samaritan who saved his life.

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise. The message? Draw close, show compassion, extend kindness, and care for those in need.

But there is another message here – running right alongside it. Remember expert asking WHO is my neighbor? WHO is the person I should love? He did not ask WHAT a neighbor does. Nor HOW a good neighbor should ACT, did he? This did not escape the original audience.

Herein lies the rub… WHO was the neighbor he was called to love as himself? A Jew?  Someone living close by?  The alien in our land? His neighbor, your neighbor is the Samaritan –

And Who is the Samaritan? The one you fear will harm you, or kill you, or worse. The one you avoid at all costs. That is the one…Jesus says, who is loved by me – made in my image – who I also died for. Will you actively love the one you hate? Or simply pass by?

It may cost you a LOT to love that neighbor. to step over the ancient, bloodied line separating “us” from “them,” You may even be frowned upon by those who are highly religious. But do it anyway, Jesus says.

Bind the wounds; pour on the wine and the oil, care for those that hate you.  You will find, in them, in the one you thought you hated… Not only a brother or a sister, but a friend. And not only a friend, but a hero. And you will inherit SHALOM – Abundant ZOE Life beyond your wildest dreams.


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