In the gospel of Luke, a lawyer (another translation for this word lawyer is law expert) tests Jesus with these words: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”? And, typical of Jesus method of teaching, he answers a question with a question. “What is written in the law”? The lawyer answers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”.
In the parable that Jesus uses, He refers to a road from Jericho to Jerusalem, a road of @ 17 miles that was a common target for thieves to travel. It was also a common circuit for priests and Levites, traveling back and forth from Jericho to the temple in Jerusalem. The terrain along the road had caves for easy hiding, and I’m sure people were encouraged to not travel this road alone or to carry weapons. Jesus tells a parable about robbers that attack a man on his way to Jerusalem. They strip him, beat him and leave him half dead.
By chance a priest is going down the road, but when he sees the man he crosses to the other side and keeps going. A Levite comes down the road and when he sees the man lying down on the side of the road, he also crosses to the other side of the road and keeps going. It’s interesting that Jesus uses both a priest and a Levite in this parable. All priests at that time were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. Priests served at the altar, and were the link to God in temple worship. Not all Levites were priests, but the only ones that could assist the priests service holy vessels in the temple were Levites. They assisted the priests.
Priests were trained not only in liturgy and practices of worship, but also ceremonial law. Many of the Levites that were not priests were also lawyers. The lawyer testing Jesus with the question is undoubtedly a Levite. Therefore, he acknowledges both the priest and the Levite as his neighbors. The parable turns the question on its head. The lawyer is hoping as he asks the question that some people are not his neighbors. Neither priests or Levites were allowed to touch a dead body without going through a rite of purification that could take days.
The man lying on the side of the road is either dead or alive, or as is noticeably “half dead”. The only way to know for sure is to touch him and find out. They choose not to because of their ceremonial law. Perhaps he is not dead, but sure looks like he might die, and if he does, the purification rites are required, and that can take days, and cost a good weeks pay that is needed for the family at home.
In Jewish Ceremonial Law, saving a life triumphs over other all other ceremonial law. The preservation of human life takes precedence over all the other commandments in Judaism. The Talmud emphasizes this law taken from the Torah: “You shall therefore keep my statutes…which if a man do, he shall live by them.” (Luke 18:5) The Babylonian Talmud adds: “That he shall live by them, and not that he shall die by them.” (Babylonian Yoma 85b)The priest knows this rule, and probably the Levite as well. So, if there is any hesitation of not helping this man that appears to be hanging in the balance between life and death, they have a responsibility to intervene. But neither one of them allow themselves to be inconvenienced. It’s much easier to hide ritual and ceremonial law than to be inconvenienced by others. It’s easy to hide behind traditions, customs, or good excuses, so that we don’t have to love our neighbor. We want to do the first part, loving God, but we are also instructed to love our neighbor, and that means not avoiding them.
The third traveler to notice the man on the side of the highway is a Samaritan. When he comes to the injured man, he does not cross to the side of the road. No, he is moved with pity. He goes to pours oil (probably olive oil and wine on his wounds, and then bandages him up. Why olive oil and wine? Olive wine soothes and promotes healing for open wounds. Wine has alcohol that kills that helps fight infection. I think the oil and wine have a deeper meaning here too.; The priest and Levite used oil and wine in the temple as part of their worship to God. The Samaritan ironically uses the oil and wine in his worship to God too, in loving his neighbor.
Religious Jews did not have any use for Samaritans. They were Jews that had intermarried with those outside of Judaism, and they worshipped on altars that were not according to Jewish custom. They considered all Samaritans as unclean. According to the Mishma (a collection of oral traditions that developed about the law): “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine”. Pork is off limits in Judaism.
The Samaritan puts him on his own animal, (either a horse, donkey or camel), brings him to an inn, and takes care of him. The next day he pays the innkeeper enough money to feed approximately 25 people, or the equivalent of two days of wages, more than enough to meet the man’s needs for a couple of days, but he does not stop there. He asks the innkeeper to take care of him and when he returns he will repay whatever more the innkeeper spends.
Jesus then asks the lawyer: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man that fell into the hands of the robbers”? The lawyer responds: “The one who showed him mercy”. I can’t help but notice that the lawyer does not say the Samaritan, but simply says, “the one who showed him mercy”. I can’t help but notice here that the lawyer does not say the word Samaritan, but instead, “the one who showed him mercy”. Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise”. This is how I expect you to love your neighbor, just like the Samaritan.
“Who is your neighbor”?
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen