25 Look, some lawyer stood up, he examined him, he said: Teacher, Inheriting the life of the aeon involves doing what? 26 He said to him: Torah says what? How do you read? 27 He answered, He said: You will love haShem your Elohim out of the whole of your heart: in the whole of your life, in the whole of your strength, in the whole of your intellect. and: Your neighbor as yourself. He said to him: Rightly you answer. Do this. You will live. 29 He wanted to be strictly observant. He said to Joshua: And who is my neighbor? 30 Taking up the discussion, Joshua said: Some guy was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Bandits fell on him; after they stripped him, and beat him, they went away they abandoned him half dead. 31 By coincidence, some priest went down in that road; he saw him; he went past him. 32 Likewise a Levite, up against the place; came; saw; went past. 33 Some Samaritan journeyed, came up against him. He saw; he felt it in the pit of his stomach. 34 He came to him, bound his wounds, poured on oil and wine, placed him on his own donkey, led him into an inn, took care of him. 35 And on the next day he gave two denarii to the host he said: Take care of him. Whatever you spend besides, I, when I come back, I will repay you. 36 Who of these three neighbor (does it appear to you) became of the one fallen on by bandits? 37 He said: The one doing mercy with him. He said to him, Joshua did: Walk You You do likewise.
Three years ago, I explored the conversation between Jesus and the Torah expert. You can find that Provocation at https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/a-provocation-eighth-sunday-after-pentecost-luke-1025-37/
A Question or Two:
- What do you actually know about priests or Levites?
- How much of that is simply stereotype, built up of generations of inattentive storytelling?
Some Longer Reflections:
This year I notice the story that Jesus tells, the one about “some priest…, likewise a Levite…, and some Samaritan….” This is a regular storytelling form: it’s not a particular priest, it’s just some guy who is a priest. Likewise the Levite and the Samaritan are not pictured as typical, or exemplary, or as anything special at all. They just happen to be on the road that one random, accidental day.
It does, however, matter that the priest and Levite have a painful responsibility: they must avoid corpse uncleanness, and as a result, they cannot touch the man lying on the road. It is possible that these two men are rats; it is possible that they would not have helped him if they could. But Jesus does not even hint at this sort of moral coldness. If anything, he presents them as being caught between their moral heart and their duties to the community. Otherwise, why introduce the whole rigmarole about a priest and Levite?
If that is the basic tension in the story, then the bite of this parable is that it is a darn good thing that there are Samaritans in the world: people of another community, another language, another religion, strangers pictured as enemies.
But no matter how you read these matters, the story is simply about becoming neighbor to the man lying on the road.
Becoming neighbor may well involve urging people to act as neighbor to people in need. The priest might well have done that, and the Levite, too. Becoming neighbor may also involve living a life shaped by warm and considerate observance of Torah, or of any proper religious practice of life. Again, both the priest and Levite might very well have lived lives shaped by the principles taught in the Torah and the prophets, even the prophet Isaiah (chapter 1) who taught that God did not care for religious ritual, opulently performed, but cared for how people treat widows and orphans, the poor an powerless among them. The priest and the Levite might well have protected widows and orphans, even while also guarding their religious duties to the community.
But this little story is not about what “might well” have been done generally. This little story is about what actually WAS done to the one man who actually WAS lying by the side of the road, left for dead. As the Torah expert wisely says: the one who became neighbor to the man lying on the road was the one who actually did mercy with him. Actual doing matters.
This puts a sharp point on this parable, especially these days when there are people lying by the side of the road, or dying in the desert, or washing up on the shore of the Rio Grande, these days when people who provide water or other help for such neighbors are faced with jail time.
This is a strange time for acting as actual neighbors. But that doesn’t change the point of the parable. It cuts through all our excuses about our customary practice, our usual public statements, and asks if we are doing mercy. Or not.
As Jesus says, you do likewise. So do. Actually.