Gospel Luke 10:25-37
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
When we read this we think about the poor man who was robbed and about the good man who helped him. Thinking about these two is natural enough because the story seems to revolve around them, what happened to them, and what they did. But there are other people mentioned that, while we think about them, we don’t think much about them other than to see the downside, or what we perceive as the downside, of their actions. Regarding them, maybe we should think again.
A priest walked by. Now, here is a man dedicated to serving God and the people. Of course, in this instance, “people” refers to Israel, but you could rightly expect such a one to have compassion on folks in general. The Jews, at this point, were very evangelistic, looking to make converts, and so they did look at others with a compassion born of service to God. But the man in the ditch? He was a Jew. He should’ve been a priority. Why didn’t the priest stop? Consider that Jesus, in telling this story, doesn’t condemn the priest for not stopping. This is often overlooked. Maybe the priest was on his way to the Temple to make sacrifice, maybe he had a strict schedule, maybe he was thoughtful enough in his service towards God and people that he wasn’t willing to risk becoming unclean, if this guy in the ditch turned out to be a corpse, and so not be able to make an important sacrifice for someone in need. What would a Catholic priest do if he saw an auto accident while on his way to the hospital to hear a confession from someone literally at death’s door with mortal sin on their soul? Tough call.
A Levite came walking by next. Here is a person charged with helping the priest and caring for the things of God so that the priest would have time to do his job rather than be bogged down with “housework” and “details”. He doesn’t stop either. And Jesus, in speaking of him, makes no judgement call, has nothing negative to say. The guy just keeps walking. Period. Was he heartless? Unfeeling? Probably not. There is the chance that, just like the priest, he had things that must be done and couldn’t risk defiling himself. Like a deacon or sacristan who, seeing that same accident on the highway I mentioned above, wants to stop but can’t because there are 300 people and a bride and groom waiting. Do you postpone a wedding and stop? If they stop is there really anything they can do anyway? Another tough call isn’t it?
This story is about love and acting on love. Jesus condemns no one in the telling of it. For all we know the priest and the Levite were practicing love of God and others the best they could under the circumstances. Jesus didn’t judge, he concentrated on love instead. The next time we see someone do, or not do, a thing we think requires their attention we might like to remember that we don’t necessarily have all the facts and refrain from judgement. Let God take care of the people and details because He has access to all the info and let us concentrate on love like God wants us to, the way the Good Samaritan did, and like Jesus does.