Have you ever started listening to some music that you didn’t recognize, but then, as it went along, you realized that you knew the song (just not the beginning of it)? Maybe you were listening to some classical music, and it got to a part that you remembered from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, or you start listening to the Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (without knowing what was playing) and then recognize the part when the cannons start to go off.
Sometimes, I think that we tend to skip to the familiar parts of Jesus’ teaching, and not always appreciate the context in which specific parables or lessons were given. In that context, if the past couple of articles shared the introduction to the upcoming parable (Luke 10:25-29), we now get to the part of the story that lots of people already know.
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:30-32 NIV
Other preachers and teachers have pointed out that this was not a good stretch of road. Apparently, there were lots of good places for bad guys to hide, so that they could jump out and attack passers-by.
And, the victim here doesn’t just get held up for his wallet, his watch, and his cell phone. He still gets robbed (including his clothes), and also receives a full beat-down. This guy is not getting back up, it appears, and he has no money to offer to anyone who might offer to help him. He’s the first character in this story, and he’s not off to a good start.
(Ironically, although this story – sometimes called the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” – sometimes appears in children’s Bible story books, what actually is going on here is probably closer to TV-MA content. This guy didn’t just get a couple of bruises and faint – he was half dead! However, I also agree that toddlers probably aren’t ready to process all of the details in accounts like this.)
Next, we meet two more characters in this story. In this case, we may remember that there are two ways to teach by example: We can be a good example, and show the right way to do things. Or, we can fail miserably and embarrass ourselves, but at least we warn others what to avoid!
Now, if you’ve heard a sermon on this text before, you might have heard how the priests and Levites may have wanted to remain ceremonially clean. It might not have been obvious whether the robbery victim here was still alive, and touching a dead body would make someone unclean (see Numbers 19:11-13, Haggai 2:13). The usual sermon on this text might tell us that we cannot place such a high value on our religious ceremony that we aren’t willing to get dirty in order to help someone out. On the other hand, the Lookout (cited below) points out that they were heading away from Jerusalem, so presumably they didn’t need to be clean for Temple duties at their destination.
However, the most important thing that these first two passers-by did seems to be “not helping”. Regardless of their reasons or their excuses, good or bad, they didn’t help someone who needed it. As much as we might try to put motivations into the minds of these examples that Jesus gave us, what we know about their actions is that they, “passed by on the other side”.
Before moving on in this parable, let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions.
Are there people who you wouldn’t help out of a ditch?
I don’t just mean someone stuck on the side of the road, when you aren’t able to get across multiple lanes of traffic and don’t have the means to do anything to help, anyway. Instead, I mean someone who genuinely and clearly needs help, who you see at a time and a place where you can do something to help them.
Do you have people or groups like that, who you would allow to remain stuck (and maybe even be a little happy about their predicament)? Maybe they look different from you, seem to be part of a different group from you, or just have bumper stickers that you don’t like. I hope this is not the case, and that you can show the love of God to anyone. However, if there are people groups that we don’t consider worth helping, I hope that we will think about this example of being a neighbor when God puts us in a situation where we can help.
On a related note, Are there people whose problems we are happy about?
Be honest: when you see people in the news who you don’t like, do you enjoy it when they are embarrassed, lose money, or fail? Do we enjoy watching arrogant people taken down a peg?
Now, there are times when God uses problems to help teach lessons, and we shouldn’t expect to be exceptions to that, ourselves. But, even church discipline includes goals of preserving, protecting, and – if possible – even restoring someone who is sinning. There is a positive purpose in the right kind of suffering.
So, as we consider the first three characters in this parable, let’s be on the lookout for those who are in the first character’s situation (suffering, helpless, and stuck), and let’s make sure that we’re not behaving like the second two characters (passing by and not helping when we can – and should – do so).
You’re welcome to read the whole account here, at Luke 10:25-37, as we continue studying it in the next article…
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 1, 2022
- The Lookout, May 1, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.