My fourth post on topics ranging from holidays to the glory of a woman’s hair (and a man’s if it looks good!) to the pregnant girl who sat in front of me in senior English class.
A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan walk into …
You’re probably familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Separately, three people came upon a man who’d been mugged. One was a priest, another a Levite, and the last a Samaritan, who would have been hated by the Jews. Typically, we walk away from the story thinking we should be more compassionate toward others, especially those we normally wouldn’t like. But, as there usually is, there’s more to the story.
The first two characters, the priest and Levite (likely a Temple assistant), would have served devoutly in Temple worship in Jerusalem, following all the commandments and ordinances regarding ceremonial cleanliness. Since the robbers had left the man half dead, only by touching him could one determine whether he was dead or still alive. The priest could not afford to take the chance of contact with a dead body, since he wouldn’t be able to perform his religious duties in the Temple. Neither could the Levite, which is why they both made sure to pass by him at a distance.
Of course, the third, the Samaritan, was the one praised by Jesus for his compassion, for his love that exceeded national boundaries and traditional prejudices. Jesus always insisted that our love for God must be demonstrated in the way we care for others, even when it involves a cost to ourselves.
What defiles a man?
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
—Luke 7:39 ESV
The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet repulsed Simon, the Pharisee, who wondered how Jesus could allow such a woman to touch him. She, like the man left for dead, was unclean, her sin obvious to everyone. And like the priest and Levite, Simon was more concerned with his religion than with caring for victims.
The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus our great high priest, who sympathizes with our weaknesses and understands how we are tempted. He is the Priest who reached out and touched the unclean: lepers, sick, blind, deaf, lame, demon-possessed. Jesus didn’t worry whether someone was dead or not, like the priest and Levite; no, he intentionally touched the dead, raising them to life again. And he felt his own blood on the cross, as it dripped from his forehead into his eyes. Blood that would normally defile a priest, yet Hebrews says he was “holy, innocent, unstained.” Our priest didn’t skip to the other side of the road and pass by. He kneeled down, anointed and bandaged our wounds, and began the healing process himself. And he isn’t done.
As we become more like Jesus, we will, instead of despising people who are broken by sin, be “touched by the depth of the bondage that holds them captive” (Wayne Jacobsen). As we grow closer to Jesus, the allure of sin lessens, and compassion develops toward those for whom temptation is still strong. We escape corruption ourselves, and look to help rescue others. We stop on the road and get out our oil and wine.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. —2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV
How do you look at sinners? What do you see in their eyes? Do you view them as victims or perpetrators or both? What about “backsliders,” those so-called Christians who no longer identify with Christ?
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