When the guy left Jerusalem to head northeast to Jericho, he was probably in a good state of mind. Even though he knew from hearsay that the road he would be traveling was a road known for robbers and brigands, he felt pretty safe because of the number of other people who travelled the same road. Even though many other people would travel southwest (not the airline, but direction), there was still the fact that each day hundreds of people travelled the road that goes up to Jerusalem. All roads, from whatever direction they came, travelled up to Jerusalem because it sits on a hill. So when people left Jerusalem, they travelled down from the holy city in whatever direction they happened to travel.
So, the guy felt pretty safe because of numbers. There’s usually safety in numbers. The odds were with this traveler that he would be in close proximity to strangers over the length this trip that was about 15 miles on a straight line. But the robbers knew the road better than this traveler. They knew the exact hiding spots, from where they could make a quick hit on an unsuspecting traveler, knock them over from behind, rob them of their goods, and jump back into the shadows off the road. And do so within a minute. They had their routine down to a science, with perfect timing. The perfect timing of evil, which becomes someone else’s pain and misery.
So naturally, about 4 miles in, when all seemed to be going well on his trip to Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down centuries before, this guy’s walls came tumbling down when he got hit over the head from behind, robbed, and left for dead. As he lay there in a pool of his own blood, with blurry eyesight, he caught a glimpse of what looked like a priest from Jerusalem. He thought for just a brief moment, “This man of God will help me back on my feet.” But he crossed to the other side and kept moving on after giving the victim a look of horror. He danced the priest shuffle to the other side of the road.
The victim thought, “He looked like a priest. He dressed like a priest. He smelled like a priest. He even had his own set of golf clubs. But he didn’t act like a priest. He must have been impersonating a priest, because I know a priest would not leave me dying on the side of the road.”
He found out otherwise. The true victim in that moment when the clear vision of the priest met the blurry vision of the one who was robbed, the true victim was the priest. His soul was victimized in the eyes of God, who sees everything.
And the same happened with the Levite, one who held at the time both religious and political responsibilities. An influential person. He also gave the victim of robbery a glimmer of hope as he approached. But lo and behold, he too left the guy on the ground in pain, leaving him disappointed as the passerby did the Levite shuffle to the other side of the road. The Levite, in that moment, became the true victim, who will be accused by God at a future date as to why he did the Levite shuffle to the other side of the road. We can hear the many excuses. And God at the end saying, “Why don’t you do Levite shuffle down to Purgatory for a few centuries.”
This story is in Jesus’ top 2 parables, in my unworthy estimation. It’s up there with the laborers who came into the vineyard to work for the Lord late in the day, receiving the same pay of eternal life as those who showed up at 9:00 in the morning of their lives. Both parables are deeply and richly connected to our salvation, our faith, our good works that flow from our faith, and just a general attitude of compassion and care toward someone who is hurting.
Are there men and women who call themselves Christian who hold little regard for the pain and plight of others? If so, they’re blind to the expectations and actions of Jesus Christ, and they live in their comfortable bubble, just like the priest and the Levite. To come out of their worldly bubble is to upset the cart that carries their reputation, their comfort, their false sense of peace, and their 401-K’s.
But fortunately we have some Samaritans, that despised race. The race of people at the time of Jesus who knew little about God or goodness. Yet, the Samaritan is the one who does not allow himself to become the victim, but treats the true victim with compassionate action. Not only with compassion, but compassionate action. There’s a mega-huge difference between the two.
The spiritual danger that sits in the middle of this world famous parable is the danger of having a heart for the downtrodden and those beat up by life’s blows, but do nothing at all to assist. This parable zeroes in on the importance and essential nature of Christian action. The priest and the Levite could have easily had compassion in their hearts as they shuffled to the other side of the road. But for Jesus, that is not good enough. That’s a self-righteous soothing of our hearts, where we can say to ourselves, “Well, at least I had compassion for him.” You know what that approach really is? It’s a decision that will send us off to Purgatory, when our souls are meant to be destined for heaven.
It’s a great parable. A parable that goes right to the heart of our Christian faith and answers the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer? Become a Samaritan on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Let your walls come tumbling down. And be a person of compassionate action, where we don’t settle for Purgatory, but reach for heaven by staying on the same side of the road as the victim.