“Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” –Luke 10:31-33
The Good Samaritan is one Jesus’ most famous parables. There is a lot of wisdom packed into this little story in Luke 10. Today we’ll stay with one simple idea; the forest and the trees.
The first two who passed by the “half dead” man shared a similar perspective. Both the priest and the Levite were connected to the temple and served the community through religious practices and rituals.
The religious practices of the temple were deeply connected to the understanding of ritual purity. The Torah, or the law in the Old Testament, included a number of “purity laws”. Purity laws had a way of drawing a line between those who were “in” and those who were “out”. Keep in mind that the story opens with someone asking Jesus, “What must I do to inherent eternal life?” or to put it another way, “How do I make sure I’m ‘in’?”
The purity laws outline particular actions or events that make someone “unclean.” To be “unclean” meant that one was separated from the community, could not work, and often had a negative social stigma attached. There was a process by which one could once again become “clean” (and this process typically involved the temple or a priest).
In the book of Numbers there is a law that touching a dead body makes one, “unclean”. It is very likely that Jesus intentionally used the priest and the Levite in his story. They may have avoided the injured man for fear of becoming “unclean”. Jesus says the robbers left him “half dead”. If the priest and the Levite thought he was dead or likely to die then avoiding him would mean they would remain “pure” or “clean” and that they would still be able to do their work for God at the temple.
Notice the problem. They’ve missed the forest for the trees.
In his story about compassion; about community created by kindness over kin; and about righteousness; Jesus reminds us to stay focused on the bigger picture. So intent were the priest and the Levite on following the law and serving their community that they literally distanced themselves from the heart of the law and forgot that the purpose of their community is to serve the world (Genesis 12:1-3).
Church, let us not get so wrapped up in a particular program or tradition that we miss the bigger picture of our calling. Let us continually and intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to blow through our lives. We need to shaken up a little and moved out of our routine so that we can see with renewed eyes the ever present opportunities to live into our calling anew.