Have you ever read the parable of the Good Samaritan? I’d imagine it’s probably one of Christianity’s most (poorly) quoted scriptures. At some point, we’ve all heard something along the lines of, “Have you done your good deed today? Well, aren’t you such a good Samaritan…”
I don’t think that’s at the heart of what Jesus was trying to say.
If you’re unfamiliar, this parable (which can be found in Luke 10:25-37) goes something like this: A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by a band of robbers. We’ll call him Joe. They beat Joe to a pulp, leaving him barely alive, taking all of his clothing and possessions. Joe was abandoned at the side of the road, needing some serious help.
Shortly thereafter, a priest comes whisking down the trail. The priest takes notice of the half-dead man, but ignores him. He chooses to pass on by. Every time I’ve read this parable I’ve found myself confused. Sure, I know Jesus wasn’t a huge fan of the religious leaders… but what’s happening here? There seems to be no explanation or reasoning for the priest actions. Was he just a cruel, heartless jerk? Probably not.
A friend of mine, who has researched this passage, shed some contextual light on it: Priests, in Jesus’ day, followed a rigorous set of Laws. Breaking even the slightest of those Laws could render them “unclean.” Being unclean wasn’t just frowned upon; It wasn’t like you could hop in the shower and instantly reinstate your cleanliness. Nope, that’s the wrong kind of unclean. This kind of unclean made them temporarily unfit for the role of priest. For upwards to a week they would be unable to perform their job–a job that included leading hundreds, if not thousands, of fellow Jews in temple rituals. Not to mention, it would cost a few pretty pennies to afford the animal sacrifices he’d have to offer.
Helping Joe–even coming within a few feet of him–would deem this priest unclean. It would be a tremendously costly (not to mention inconvenient) decision, and perhaps even destructive for the faith community he led.
Later on in the parable, Jesus talks about another traveler: a Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were enemies and absolutely hated one another. Jesus’ audience probably would have cringed at the word. Ironically, Jesus chooses the Samaritan as the story’s hero. The Samaritan stops, helps the man, takes him to an inn and pays for all of his needs. This Samaritan, that the Jews despised, became the gleaming example of what it means to love your neighbor.
Which raises the question… why is the priest made out as the bad guy? Wasn’t he doing his job? The very job God had called him to? Then why wasn’t he the example of loving your neighbor? Couldn’t the point be made that he was actually doing what was best for the most people, since he was protecting the needs of his congregation?
My take? The priest’s heart was more committed to his culture than to love. His culture’s values weren’t bad themselves. They were created for the purposes of following God. However, when he chose to adhere to his culture’s values over the commands of God… that is when things went astray.
This is absolutely relevant to us today. All too often the American Church finds itself trying to unite our American values with Biblical truth. When that happens, we find ourselves in a tough situation–and as a result, not loving our neighbors.
So, I ask you: Where, in your life, is holding two flags becoming conflicting?