Last October I wrote about the Good Samaritan and a culture set on taking vengeance so even the Good Samaritan was risking his life for helping. Today I’ll cover this parable with two additional perspectives. One is of Jesus making up a story with a hated hero, and the other is with the clean/unclean requirements for priests.
RESPONSE TO A LAWYER’S QUESTION: WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Leviticus identifies the neighbor as being one’s brother and “the sons of your own people” (Leviticus 19:17-18). The rabbis understood this to include all Jews. They were divided over the proselyte and were sure that it did not include gentiles…. Jeremias notes a rabbinical saying “that heretics, informers, and renegades” should be pushed (into a ditch) and not pulled out….” John Lightfoot quotes a midrash on Ruth 4: “The gentiles…” [if] “there is no war…we are not to contrive their death; but if they be in any danger of death, we are not bound to deliver them….” Thus the lawyer asked his question in a world that held a variety of views…. The oral law was not fully uniform…. There was a lively debate on points of interpretation.Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
Now imagine making up a story today for those in the Gaza Strip to hear. It’s about a good Jew who took care of one of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip because the Palestinian was left to die. It’s painfully obvious the good Jew’s own life is at risk for trying to help out the Palestinian in this way. Christ’s story would’ve been about as popular among the Jews back then.
THE PRIEST’S DILEMMA
The wounded traveler’s condition…. He is unconscious and stripped…. The traveler is able to identify strangers in two ways. He can…identify him from his speech or, even before that…by his manner of dress. In the first century the various…communities within Palestine used an amazing number of languages and dialects. In Hebrew alone, there was classical Hebrew, late Biblical Hebrew, and Mishnaic Hebrew. But in addition to Hebrew…Aramaic, Greek, Southwest Ashdodian, Samaritan, Phoenician, Arabic, Nabatean, and Latin…. The country had many settled communities of pagans…. No one traveling…could be sure that the stranger…would be a fellow Jew….Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
Think also about what it was like to travel as a Jewish priest in ancient Palestine:
In trying to reconstruct the world in which this priest lives and thinks, it is instructive to turn to Sirach 12:1-7: “If you do a good turn, know for whom you are doing it, and your good deeds will not go to waste. Do good to a devout man, and you will receive a reward…do not go to the help of a sinner….” Thus, help offered to sinners may be labor against God himself who detests sinners…. Sinners’ hands should not be strengthened…. [The Priest] is the prisoner of his own legal/theological system.Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
As for the rituals the priests had to observe,
…the priest did not actually see it happen…. How can he be sure the wounded man is a neighbor? …not only…the possibility that the wounded man is a non-Jew, but also he might be dead…. The priest collects, distributes, and eats tithes. If he defiles himself he can do none of these things, and his family and servants will suffer the consequences with him. A tithe of the tithe, called the “wave offering,” was given by Levites to priests…could be eaten only in a state of ritual purity…. Also, while under the ban on defilement he could not officiate at any service and…wear his phylacteries…. The written law listed five sources of defilement. Contact with a corpse was at the top…. The oral law added four more. Contact with a non-Jew was the first of…additional list…. The rules of purity were…always considered an end in themselves, not just a means to an end. They were held to be the best way of avoiding sin and attaining the heights of sanctity….Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes
LIBERALISM VERSUS LEGALISM
Last November I blogged the reason Jews were so legalistic about separating from Gentiles. It was a reaction to Jews marrying Gentiles during Ezra’s time (Ezra 9:1-10, 14). Last February I also covered when the Jews in Nazareth nearly threw Jesus off a cliff. This was evidence of their sheer hatred for Gentiles. When religion turns from liberalism to legalism, or vice versa, both are harmful. The answer: love and a diligent drive to apply the scriptures with balance and proper priorities. Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
May this not be true of you or me.
The above picture was scanned from this website.