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God’s Word for You

Luke 10:30-34 The Good Samaritan (part 1)

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 21, 2018

We need to take this parable in a whole delicious bite, not in little pieces. Yet the story has certain elements that some readers will need to have explained, and which all of us will profit from hearing once again. For this reason, we will take the parable in two pieces. Today we will recall the identities and relationships of four of the five men in the parable, and tomorrow we will apply the parable’s meaning to the lawyer who asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” and also to ourselves.

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

Jesus presents for us a Jew—a man of Jerusalem—on his way down to Jericho. The road winds for about seventeen miles, more or less directly there except for one detour around “old Jericho.” The descent is dramatic, dropping 3,300 feet from 2,500 feet above sea level to about
800 feet below sea level. The eastern edge of modern Jericho is a little over four miles (ten km) to the Allenby Bridge which crosses the Jordan. The terrain is a stony, sandy desert dotted with scrub brush and a thin line of date palms that line the road, with the rise of the hills of Gilead beyond the river forming the horizon.

In the evening in Jericho, the hot desert air ripples in the sky above and distorts the size of the moon. The name Jericho means “City of the Moon.”

The road is mostly open through a treeless, flat, descending plain. The robbers had little need for secrecy if they were part of an armed band. These robbers took whatever our traveler had, but his clothing is all that’s mentioned. That means that they were petty thugs. Beating up a traveler to steal his clothes and to sell them is a wretched way to make a living. The robbers, then, were on the very edge of poverty themselves, almost to be pitied except for their cruelty and violence.

31 A priest happened to be going down that way, but when he saw the man he passed by on the other side.

Priests lived all throughout Israel. All of them, without exception, were from the tribe of Levi (not Judah), and men from the ages of thirty to fifty served as priests in the temple in a rotation established by King David and Zadok the priest (1 Chronicles 24:3-19). Two thirds of the priests were descended from Aaron’s son Eleazer and one third were descended from the younger son Ithamar (1 Chronicles 24:4). Priests were directly involved in offering sacrifices, inspecting and judging people to be ceremonially clean or unclean, and they offered prayers. Priests taught children, read the Scriptures, and some specialized in interpreting the Law of Moses, copying the Scriptures, preparing vellum or parchment for making into scrolls, or participated in temple music.

The priest in the parable did nothing for the poor wounded Jew. Jesus gives no motive for the priest’s failure to help, and although we might imagine many things (he was in a hurry, he didn’t want to become ceremonially unclean by coming into contact with blood or a dead body in case the man died, etc.), none of these excuses would matter later on, or to God. He should have helped the hurting man, but he didn’t. He didn’t even walk by close enough to be sure he was still alive. In our terms, he was chicken, and he crossed the road.

32 A Levite also happened to be going there, but when he came to the place and saw the man, he also passed by on the other side.

A Levite is literally a person descended from the tribe of Levi, whether a man or a woman (cp. Exodus 2:1). In this case, however, Jesus means a man who served as a Levite in the same way that a priest served with his special duties in the temple. In this context, a Levite was a member of one of three tribes: Gershon, Kohath or Merari (Numbers 3:17). Each of these clans was responsible for moving and caring for certain parts of the tabernacle before the temple was built (see Numbers 3:25-37). The tribe of Levi received no real estate in Israel from the Lord; no territory to call their own. Since they cared for the tabernacle and the temple and provided the priests from their numbers, they were to be cared for and supported by all the other tribes. Supplying the tribe of Levi with food, clothes and other things was the way most Israelites gave offerings to God, just as today, most Christians’ offerings go to the salary and care of their ministers and teachers, and in this way their offerings are gifts to God for his work in the world.

This Levite was probably still too young to serve as a priest—he was a young man in his twenties. I say this because later, a man who had formerly served as a priest would still be called a priest even after his retirement from service in the temple. As he came upon the beaten-up Jew in the road, he, too, crossed over to avoid the bleeding man. He should have helped, but he didn’t.

33 A Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was. When he saw him, he took pity on the man. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own mount, took him to an inn, and took care of him.

The Samaritans were distantly related to the Jews. Their differences date back to the conquest by the Babylonians in the Old Testament, five hundred years before the time of Jesus. The Samaritans believed that true worship took place on Mount Gerizim, not in the temple in Jerusalem (John 4:20). As we saw in chapter 9, the Samaritans were hostile to Jews who were on their way to worshiping in Jerusalem (Luke 9:53), and they did not practice hospitality to Jews. In general, there was an antipathy between the two groups that was sometimes closer to open hostility.

The Samaritan man in our parable stopped to help the Jew. He stopped the man’s bleeding by bandaging his wounds (not giving any thought to becoming ceremonially unclean), and he “poured oil and wine on them.” This was basic first-aid in their culture. The oil would have kept the wounds from drying out and would have had a soothing quality, and the wine would have acted as a primitive disinfectant, killing whatever germs might have been present.

The Samaritan then transported the wounded Jew to an inn. The Greek word ktenos (κτῆνος) is generic for a large animal one uses or rides, and doesn’t necessarily mean “donkey” (see Acts 23:24). When it occurs alongside “flocks” (probaton) it almost always refers to cattle or oxen. Here it could be a donkey or a mule or even a camel—a Samaritan might not object to using an unclean animal as a mount, and a Jew listening to this parable might even assume the animal was unclean. But the matter isn’t important. He got the wounded Jew to shelter.

So far, we understand the elements of the parable, and we’ve met four of the five men in the story so far (not counting the robbers): the wounded Jew, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. We haven’t quite met the innkeeper, but he only plays a minor role and isn’t vital to our application. We should already understand the point Jesus is making, but we will let the Lawyer confess the truth, take Jesus’ words to heart, and perhaps hear what Martin Luther had to say in our next devotion.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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