Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Unlikely Hero

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 was somewhat like a modern deacon. He 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).

(Link, Mark S.J., The Seventh Trumpet, Tabor Publishing, Allen, TX, pg 118)


  1. I'm rather worried that you're defining as non-Christian conduct having any thought for one's own safety from known danger (your comments about the Levite). I really don't think Christ intended for us to blindly go marching into traps and get ourselves injured or killed.

  2. And yet if we did lose our life in such a trap, isn't that how we would again find it?

  3. So we're to be suicidally careless of our own safety and that of those dependent on us?

  4. This parable/allegory brings up several questions. Today's entire post is a quote from someone else and not necessarily my own viewpoint.

    I have other quotes that say that the Levite didn't help because if the man had died, he (the Levite) would have missed his chance to work at the Temple (in those days, a week-long, once a year assignment).

    Everybody's got an opinion on these things.

    I am a big fan of personal safety, and I don't think that Jesus was implying in this story that we are always required to put our lives in peril in order to be acceptable to Him.

    Another perspective on this parable was written by John Welch and perhaps clarifies some of the issues raised.(See especially page 73 of the article below)