I recently listened to a sermon on the Good Samaritan… something we talk about far too often it may seem, something we all think we know about. It’s typically told in order for us to see that everybody we come across is a “neighbor” and what it means to be a good Christian is to help out those in need, no matter who they are or their relation to us. And that’s not a bad message. But this focuses solely on what the Good Samaritan did, and I think, after hearing this particular sermon, that there is more to the story.
No, I’m not saying don’t walk alone on dangerous roads because you might get jumped, though that is true. Rather, it’s much more general. Something I had never thought about were the people who passed the man in need of help. They were good people too, well-respected people with important things to do. Not just that, but if they helped this man, they probably could not do their important things since they would be ritually unclean, and performing rituals was their job. You see, we had a priest and a Levite. Men of the temple. They had Godly business to attend to. It wasn’t as though they merely didn’t want to help, maybe they did but had other obligations. And not just selfish obligations, but stuff that served God…
A friend needs to talk, but we have prior obligations, it would be rude to ditch the other thing for your friend, though, since that came first. And a true friend would understand this and not want to interrupt your prior event. You have a softball game Saturday night, a playoff game, and someone from church asks if you can teach a class because they won’t be able to be there. If you don’t go to the game, your team will have to forfeit because they won’t have enough players. You have to politely, yet regretfully, decline because your team is counting on you.
These scenarios are have quite a bit in common. These aren’t just excuses, these are real reasons, legitimate. We are torn, but in the end stick with the plan. Deviating would be too risky, and it would disappoint too many people.
But yet these are the things that Jesus was criticizing, right? He was showing how Godly people, who were trying to be Godly, had their priorities messed up. We aren’t told what this Samaritan was doing, or where he was heading. I wish we were, because I have a feeling he had somewhere important to be too. And he put that on hold, and attended to this man.
How often have we done this? I wish I could say more. I am guilty of it, and I’m sure you are too at some time or another. We have things that we think are important, and yet Jesus is telling us that we have our priorities messed up.
We are walking on the other side of the road.
Part of this is about avoiding the issue to begin with. When we see something that will be trying or difficult, we often make our way around it, trying to pay it as little attention as possible as not to force us to actually make a decision. That way, we don’t feel bad, and can rationalize that we just didn’t see it or it was out of the way. This seems to me to be what the priest and Levite did. They recognized something that was going to call them to act, to make a decision, yet they avoided it, but for God’s sake.
I think there are 3 points being made here. The first is direct, and that is that everybody is our neighbor, since that was the original question that was to be answered. But I think there was a point to the people and situation that we often miss not being in the culture. Anybody listening would have known that the priest and Levite were on their way to the temple. They had duties to fulfill that the people counted on. So Jesus was flipping this on it’s head. It seems clear that this is a point since Jesus makes it other places as well. People are more important than “godliness.” I’ve heard something similar before, “business is not godliness.” People are more important than doing “things,” even if “important.” People are what God is after anyways, not a clean church, not a great sermon, not an well-said prayer. These things mean nothing if not intended to bring people to God.
The preacher emphasized this. He called us not to “walk on the other side of the road.” Calling us not to avoid stuff if at all possible, and to rationalize our actions.
How often do you walk on the other side of the road? At work? At school? Even at home? Can you say that you have dropped what you were doing, though seemingly important, to help someone in need?
If yes, keep up the good work. If no, work on it. It’s important. People matter more to God than anything else, it should be the same for us as well.