Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders of His day several times. Luke 10 records a question given by a lawyer who tested Him.
Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)
The test didn’t have the desired effect. Jesus asked him what the Law said about it, which he answered, and the test was over. Well, that didn’t work! It would have been wise for him to simply walk away at that point, but Luke tells us he wanted to justify himself, he wanted to catch Jesus in something. So, he asked the Lord:
And who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
Jesus answered the man by speaking a parable. He said:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him for dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will replay you.’ (Luke 10:30-35)
After sharing the parable, Jesus again had the lawyer answer his own question:
So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who Fell among the thieves? (Luke 10:36)
He answered correctly, it was the man who showed mercy. However, the parable was more than a story about three miscellaneous characters who happened upon an injured man. The identity of these men is important, and I trust did not escape the notice of Jesus’ audience.
The Man Who Fell Among Thieves
The only thing Jesus tells us about this man is that he fell among thieves along the road that goes from Jericho to Jerusalem. Was he old, young, rich, poor, tall, short, etc? We don’t know. Neither did Jesus say what the man’s nationality was, but it is generally accepted that he was a Jew, traveling from one Judean city to another. If he were from another nation, the force of the parable would be lost. From what we know about the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, to walk by a destitute pagan would not be frowned upon. If Jesus spoke of a Levite and priest ignoring an injured Gentile, the likely response would be, “So what?” However, by saying they would ignore one from their own nation in the same situation, Jesus attacked the lack of love among the Jewish leadership. If what He suggested were not a true characterization of the Jewish people, the lawyer would certainly have pointed it out. Remember, his purpose was to test and cause Jesus to stumble.
The Priest & The Levite
Jericho was a Levitical city, and thus the road to Jerusalem was often frequented by Levites and priests. If these men were headed to Jerusalem, they would be on their way to serve in the temple. If they were headed toward Jericho, they had just finished their service at the temple. Either way, whatever they had done or were about to do at the temple was undone. The law would compel them to stop and help, but for whatever reason, they chose not to. Regardless the show they would put on at the temple, they failed the true test of their religion.
That it was a Samaritan who stopped would make the parable sting even worse. The Jews had a history of mistreating the Samaritans—and yet Jesus attributed to this man greater love for his enemy that the Jewish leaders had for their own countrymen. He looked past the things which might divide, and allowed compassion to resign. He became neighbour to the man who fell among thieves.
Friend, who is your neighbour? Is it not one who we have the opportunity and ability to help? Who do we imitate, the priest and the Levite, or the good Samaritan? Let us stop and help, let us do what Good would have us do, so that our religion not be in vain. Hear the Lord,
Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:37)