Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Gospel of Luke - Part 5

One of the most well-known parables of Jesus, The Good Samaritan, is found in Luke 10:25-37. One commentary calls it one of the best “illustrations of human kindness”. Our familiarity with the story rarely overlooks its theme that all people are our neighbors; yet, we may not see story itself as a revelation of human weakness and frailty, of fear and prejudice. Luke’s retelling of this parable of Jesus captures the essence of servanthood, of showing love to others. 

Before we start the story, let’s look at the geography. The rough, steep, and dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho, known as The Way of Blood, is historically known to be a place of robbers. Jericho, the City of Palms, is located some 17 miles from Jerusalem with a decline in elevation of about1500 feet. Rebuilt by Herod the Great, Jericho is a wealthy city where many well-to-do Priests and Levites live. They frequently travel from Jericho to Jerusalem to attend to their duties in the Temple. So, it would not be uncommon to find robbers or Priests or Levites or a myriad of travelers along this road.

Our story recounts a man who is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a Priest and a Levite going down from Jerusalem pass by him, but neither offer any assistance. A Samaritan, who is on a journey, sees the hurt man, has compassion on him, and comes to his rescue. We know from Luke that this Samaritan cleans and bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn, giving the innkeeper enough money to care for him for “24 nights”, promising to check on him when he returns. This Good Samaritan even tells the innkeeper he will cover any other expenses that may occur. This “mercy” shown to the unknown hurt man is called “hesed” in Hebrew, meaning “beyond what is expected.”

The characters in this story reveal their hearts. The Priest probably uses the law as a reason not to help, for it the man is dead, the Priest would be considered unclean if he touches him and then would be unable to perform his duties in the Temple. Scripture, however, tells us the Priest is heading home, his duties complete. The same may be said for the Levite, who may have completed his duties, or perhaps he just didn’t want to get involved. We are often like both of these characters, using excuses or ignoring the need or just too focused on our own busyness to get involved. Maybe they are afraid that what had happened to the hurt man might happen to them. Fear frequently interferes with doing what Jesus desires from us.

Why does Jesus use a Samaritan as an example of someone willing to see the hurt man, to have compassion and provide for his needs? Hostility between the Samaritans and Jewish people had long been known, and during Jesus’ day, it is especially bitter. Considered a “mixed-race” of people, Samaritans are known for worshipping idols and having different beliefs about God. Yet, this is the unlikely person who stops to help, who takes the risk. Jesus is teaching us still today to see the broken, to look beyond our own differences.

As for the hurt man, we may wonder about him, too. Who is he? Where is he going? Could he be another Priest or Levite heading home? Is he a good man who encounters robbers, or is he just another robber, weaker than his attacker? Jesus does not give us any information about the hurt man probably for the very reason He tells the story. The one who shows mercy toward the hurt man, this person demonstrates loving our neighbors. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” - dho

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