Friday, January 23, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 14: Walking past the need

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32 NASB) 

In the previous post, we looked at the city of Jericho. (click on the link to read that post in a new window) 

The word translated here as "going down" is katabainĊ and means "to descend". As we saw in the previous post, there is a significant difference in altitude between Jerusalem and Jericho, so that a traveler literally "descends" when he travels from Jerusalem to Jericho. There have been some who suggested that the priest did not want to be defiled because of his duties as the priest, but he was clearly traveling katabainĊ, descending, which makes it obvious that he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and away from the temple, just as the wounded man had been doing. That fact suggests that the priest had completed his priestly duties, performed in Jerusalem, and was heading to Jericho, possibly for the night. Matthew Henry references a historian (Lightfoot) who says that many of the priests lived in Jericho. If so, perhaps he was going home for the night.

Let's think for a moment about the position of priest. It was a highly visible leadership position. People would have looked to him, expected obedience to God from Him, and taken guidance from the priest's behavior. He was to set the example for righteousness because it was the job of priests to minister to the Lord in the temple on a continuing basis. Because of that ongoing ministry before God, one might expect them to understand something of the heart of God, the compassion of God, but apparently that was not the case in this particular priest. 

Why didn't the priest stop? Either he saw the wounded man or he did not. Jesus made it very clear that he saw the injured victim. Since he knew the man had a need that was obviously going to be tremendous, why didn't he stop? There are many potential excuses. Perhaps he didn't know what to do and thought he might cause more harm than good by trying to help. Perhaps he was concerned about the ritual cleansing that would be required after caring for this man and wanted to avoid that effort. Maybe he was headed home, running late, and didn't want to be delayed. God, however, is much more concerned with compassion than ritual cleansing or delayed dinners. 

There are many potential excuses, but perhaps Martin Luther King's interpretation is the best one yet. He said that the priest, as well as the Levite, asked the wrong question. They asked, "What will happen to me if I stop?" when they should have asked, "What will happen to him if I do not stop?" MLK suggested that their fear of what would happen stopped them from helping. That may be true, and, frankly, I hope it is. Equally as likely, though, is the possibility that the reason the priest failed to stop to help the wounded man was pure selfishness. He was concerned about himself and not the man lying, half-dead, on the side of the road. He was likely concerned about the things that would be delayed by stopping, the additional trouble he would encounter by stopping, and the risk to himself by stopping. He was only concerned about himself.

It is this selfishness that prevented the priest from loving his neighbor and caring for him, and that same kind of selfishness prevents us from loving our neighbor, as well. This passage suggests that, when we see a need, Jesus expects us to meet it, not walk by on the other side. The problem, then, becomes one of meeting one need or the other, either our own selfish desire or the one in greater physical or spiritual need. 

Perhaps the appropriate response today is to look at our own actions with regard to the needs of others. How quick are we to respond with aid to those in need? How consistently do we respond to need? How generously? Would Jesus view the kind and amount of aid we give as He did the priest and the Levite or as He viewed the Samaritan? When people look to us for an example of righteousness, do they see the kind of generous, compassionate lifestyle that they would do well to emulate, or not? 

Let us resolve, then, to give like the Samaritan, who risked himself for the one in need.