Last Sunday you may have heard a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was one of last week’s lectionary readings.
Luke 10:25-37 (Common English Bible)
25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” 26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” 27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[a]28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” 29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’
36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” 37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Like all parables, there are many things we could say about this seemingly simple story. At the end of this post I’ll put links to two very good sermons on the passage. But I want to pick up on one small point as I continue to think about the ways we read and interpret scripture.
If you look in most commentaries the authors spend some time discussing why the Levite and the priest pass by the injured man. Why didn’t they stop? The text doesn’t tell us, but it is a question we ask. Why didn’t they stop? Surely they must have had a reason? But Jesus doesn’t mention their reasons. He does tell us why the Samaritan stopped. “But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.”
The priest and the Levite cross the road and walk on. Jesus doesn’t tell us why.
Because it doesn’t matter.
To wonder and worry about why the priest and the Levite did what they did is to miss the point of the parable. And constructing reasons for them lets us off the story’s hook. If we know their excuses, we will know what excuses to avoid. We won’t make their mistake. We’ll do better at justifying our actions and in action. How they responded, what they did when confronted with that situation- that’s what matters. What their reasons were don’t matter. Whatever justification they had, doesn’t matter. What they did ,or in this case didn’t do, mattered.
It is so easy for us to get caught up in details and miss the important idea. If we focus on someone else’s mistake, their error, we don’t have to feel so uneasy about ourselves. It is easy to point our fingers at the priest and the legal expert. We want to examine in great detail their failings so we can ignore the uncomfortable truth in both stories. We are all more like the priest, the Levite than we want to admit. Trying to distance ourselves from them doesn’t work and it doesn’t matter.
Would I cross the road or would I stop?
That’s the question that matters.
And that is a harder question than I care to admit.
Here are the sermon links: