Jesus painted portraits of 3 different people: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.
The priest apparently feared the man was dead. To touch a dead man would make him unclean and ban him temporarily from temple worship. The priest’s priority was worship before charity.
Then there was the portrait of the Levite. A Levite assisted the priest (1 Chronicles 23:3-5). But the Levite was under a different cleanliness code than priests; he could touch dead bodies.
Possibly, the Levite’s concern was different. Outlaws frequently used set-ups in their trade. One member played the victim, while others waited for some passerby to take the bait. If the Levite had some such concern in mind, he apparently opted for discretion. His priority was safety before charity.
Finally, there was the Samaritan. Making the Samaritan the hero of his parable would have certainly shocked Jesus’ hearers. Jews regarded Samaritans as heretics.
The rift between the two groups had it roots in Assyria’s conquest of northern Israel (Samaria) in 722 B.C. Those northerners who survived the disaster intermarried with foreigners brought in by the Assyrian conquerors. This shocked Jerusalem Jews. The rift continued to widen with time.
In Jesus’ day, Samaritans were banned from the temple and from all synagogues. Their religious contributions were refused, and their testimony in courts was unacceptable.
Samaritans were also hostile to Jews. They made common cause with Jewish enemies, often not letting Jews into their towns (Luke 9:52).
Jesus chose a Samaritan as his hero to teach the people that love has no boundaries. Neighborliness was not limited to neighborhoods. This is why Jesus reworded the lawyer’s question: “Which of the three was neighbor to the man?”
Jesus shifted the discussion from “defining” a neighbor to “being” a neighbor. A neighbor was not the object of one’s love, but the one who loves. Furthermore, a neighbor never considers love an obligation, but only a privilege.
Morality in the kingdom of God cannot be guided by a law inscribed in stone, but only by a spirit alive in the heart. Jesus echoed what the prophets had taught: morality can’t be written on tablets of stone, only on tablets of flesh (Jeremiah 31:33).