Today's Gospel passage, Luke 10:25-37, tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Unbeknownst to most of us, this is a title which would have drawn scoffs and laughter from Jesus' original Jewish listeners.
Jews and Samaritans did NOT get along. I will spare you the details, but I invite you to Google it to find out more. What we need to understand is that the hatred between these two ethno-religious groups was so severe, that Jesus' Jewish listeners were likely not able to conceive of such a thing as a "Good Samaritan". The very phrase itself would have been considered to be a contradiction in terms. It would have been like us saying "an honest politician". Hence why the story is specifically called "The Good Samaritan".
But the story is familiar, even to most non-churchgoers: a man is waylaid by bandits on the road, stripped, beaten and left for dead. The first person to find him is a priest, the second a Levite (a tribe of Judaism consecrated to work in the Temple). Both men pass him by.
Many people assume they passed him by simply because they did not want to get involved, or that they simply had no compassion or concern for their fellow countryman. This may or may not be the case, but another possible reason exists, and given the context of a discussion about the law, it is likely the scenario Jesus is trying to paint: ancient Judaism was hemmed about by a multitude of ritual purity laws and prohibitions. One of these prohibitions was against touching a dead body. If you touched a dead body, you defiled yourself and became ritually impure. For a priest and Levite, this would have been inconvenient.
So the irony is that according to the strict letter of the Law, the priest and the Levite were totally justified in passing the man by.
But is this really what the law intended? To instruct people to leave a man on the side of the road because he may or may not be dead?
It makes me think of that maxim, "There's the letter of the law, then there's the spirit of the law". In many ways, most modern religions are still hemmed about with ritual, instructions, prohibitions, and so on. It behooves us as modern, rational beings to reflect seriously on these laws and submit each and every one of them to that great acid test: does it show love to God or neighbour? Yes? Then keep it up. No? Reevaluate.
To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.