“and when he saw him” Luke 10:33
The Good Samaritan is one of the best known of the parables told by Jesus. A man who is enthusiastic about his religion wants to demonstrate how pious he is, and, in Saint Luke Chapter 10 Verse 29, he asks Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus replies to the question by telling the parable.
It is worth thinking about each of the characters in the story and to ask what they lessons they might teach.
First, there is the man who was attacked.
In Verse 30, Jesus says, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead’.
The road was rocky and narrow and was known as a place of banditry. When the Romans came to engineer the road, thirty years after the time of Jesus, they put sentry boxes along the route to protect those who travelled along it. The man decides to make a difficult and dangerous journey alone and he falls victim to bandits.
What would those listening to the story have thought about the man? Would their sympathy have been tinged with thoughts that the man had been very foolish to attempt such a journey by himself? The man’s faith that all would be well had made him vulnerable.
Listening to the story, does it seem that the man might have been irresponsible? Does it seem that a wiser man would have chosen to travel in the safety of a group? Is there a danger of falling into the trap, that is common in our times, of blaming the victim for the crime?
What would Jesus have thought if he had been interrupted when telling the story and told that it was the man’s own fault? Would he have asked if people had the sort of faith that made them prepared to be vulnerable?
The second person who appears is a priest who ministers at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Verse 31 says, “Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.”
The priest is behaving in a reasonable way, how did he know that the bandits were not lying in wait for another victim? How did he know that the man was not being used as bait? It was not just fear of attack, if the man were dead, then touching the body would make the priest ‘unclean’ and unable to participate in the rituals of the Temple. The priest would not have wished to miss the opportunity of taking part in the sacred duties for the sake of a stranger lying in the road. The priest’s faith had made him fearful, but many of those listening might have thought the priest was acting wisely.
The priest’s faith had made him fearful, when he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
How would people now have responded to the priest in the story? If it had been explained that there was a real and present danger if the priest stopped to attend to the man, wouldn’t it be thought that perhaps the priest had acted prudently? People tend to avoid danger, there is the reasonable assumption that anyone who is sensible will avoid danger.
Perhaps one might feel that one is just being cautious, just showing prudence, but there must be the question whether faith helps to overcome fear? Do people have faith, but remain fearful?
The third man in the story is a Levite, one of the thousands who assisted in the worship at the Temple.
In Verse 32, Jesus says, ‘So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side’.
The Levite is braver than the Samaritan, he comes to the place where the man is lying, but he looks at the man and does nothing. Perhaps the Levite had fears similar to those of the priest, perhaps he was afraid of being attacked, perhaps he was afraid of becoming unclean, but perhaps he thought something more, perhaps he judged that the man was not worth the risk. If the man had suffered such a fate, then many people would have thought he had done something to deserve it. The Levite comes to the place where the man is lying, but he does nothing at all. The Levite’s faith has made hum judgemental, he saw the man and passed by on the other side.
Are people like the Levite in the story? Do people think there are others for whom it is not worth taking a risk? Is there a tendency to think that people are responsible for their own fate, and although everyone might know how bad things are for people, there is no feeling that there is any need to stretch out a hand to help them? Do people stand in judgement on those of whose lives they might know nothing at all? Do people think their faith gives them the right to pass judgement?
The fourth man in the story takes a great risk and shows great generosity.
Verse 33 says, ‘But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity’.
He has seen the same man as the priest and the Levite, but instead of crossing the road, he shows compassion. Verse 34 says, ‘He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him’. The man lying in the road is a stranger, the Samaritan does not owe him anything, he has already shown great kindness, but he goes further, in Verse 35, we read, ‘The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend’.
The sectarian divide was such that the Samaritan was going to face danger and expense and was not going to receive any thanks from either community for his actions; the only person grateful would be the man himself. The man had done nothing to deserve such generosity, what the Samaritan shows is a picture of God’s grace. Grace is doing something undeserved, grace is giving in abundance. The Samaritan’s faith was a faith of grace.
People who look at themselves can see the Samaritan in the parable as a picture of Jesus who comes to help them, even though they may have been irresponsible, even though they may have made themselves vulnerable, even if they have been judged by others, Jesus comes to help.
No-one has done anything to merit what Jesus does, but he picks people up and carries them to safety and provides for them. If this is what Jesus does, if the story of the Samaritan is the story of a man who showed grace, then those who are followers of Jesus must show that grace to others.
The man who was attacked met with three responses: fear, judgement, and grace. Which response would be made by Christians now?