Shouldn’t the church be the first to extend aid to those in need? Shouldn’t the church be the first to extend a helping hand to the downtrodden? Is this not what the Gospel teaches us about the moral nature of the Christian life?
Yes, absolutely! However, sadly, this truth is talked about more than it is actually lived out. This is the whole point of Jesus’ first passerby in Luke 10:31. We have just witnessed a traumatic scene in which a man is brutally attacked, robbed, stripped and left for dead. It is life a scene from a rated R movie, a scene that makes our stomach sick. Who will come to help this man! Ah, thank goodness, a priest is coming! Since a priest represents the moral elite, those who live better than the rest, he will certainly act when normally others don’t, right? Sadly, wrong.
The priest, the man who would know the ins and outs of the Torah, does nothing. He just looks at the traveler. But he does not care for him at all. In fact, the priest only cares for himself – seeing that man lying there tells him that the bandits are probably not far away and that he could also be ambushed at any moment. Did you catch that? This religious leader cares about security and safety more than he cares about helping the helpless. How strangely similar does that sound to our own American rhetoric today?
So, instead of going to his aid, the priest quickly passes on to the other side of the pathway and keeps going. The priest does nothing! The man who more than anyone else knows that the Bible says to care for those in need forsakes the beaten traveler.
At this point our hearts sink. We wonder, “How can this be?” Thankfully, another person is on his way in verse 32. The second person to pass by is a Levite, a man who serves in the Jerusalem Temple. Surely he will help. He may not know the Torah as extensively as the priest, but he has to help. He serves in the temple for goodness sake. He has to do something!
We don’t have a modern day equivalent to a Levite. But essentially it would be someone who works in the church, perhaps in a particular ministry, like a small group leader or in men’s ministry or children’s ministry. They may not have the theological training of the pastor and elders, but they are certainly considered leaders in the church who are supposed to set a good example. But, like the priest, this Levite simply looks at the traveler beaten and half naked on the side of the road and, like the priest, he does nothing.
So as the Levite passes on, this traveler’s chances of surviving have faded away. If these two men – the exemplary men of religious, Jewish society, the symbols of the religious and moral elite – will not help him, then surely no one will.
Brothers and Sisters, beware. This turn in the parable is a major warning for us, Christians, today. Jesus hands out a scathing indictment on the priest and the Levite for their care of individual safety and security above the care for others. Let this also be a convicting truth for us. Yes, had the priest and Levite stayed to help, they may have also been ambushed by the bandits. Yes, they could have been robbed and beaten up too. Yes, they might have ended up lying half dead on the road next to the helpless man. But isn’t Jesus implying that the risk is not only worth it, but also necessary?
What did you think of this devotion? What practical applications would you suggest in regard to social justice based on the lives of the priest and the Levite? Let us know your thoughts in the forum here.