Divine Double-Talk and the Parable of the Good Samaritan
William M. Cwirla
 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
– Luke 10:30-34
Who fails to help the man in the ditch? The religious clergy-the priest and the Levite, whom the synagogue lawyer would hold up as examples of blue-ribbon righteousness. Why didn’t they help the man in the ditch? Not because they were wicked, or indifferent, or bad, or uncaring, but because their religion based on keeping the law would not permit them. If the man in the ditch were as dead as he appeared, the priest and Levite would have become ceremonially unclean simply by touching him (Lev. 19:11-13). Rabbinic interpretation drew a four-cubit radius safety zone around the corpse. Step inside and you’re automatically unclean. Even if the priest and Levite were heading home for the holidays, the last thing they would want is to come home in a state of impurity. In addition to the humiliation, there would be the time-consuming and costly process of restoration. Most people would have approved the priest’s and Levite’s decision not to help the man in the ditch.
Priest and Levite are caught between a legal rock and a rabbinic hard place. The law says they must love their neighbor. Yet helping the man in the ditch puts them at risk of ritual impurity. And all the while they must also love God who makes these laws in the first place. Only the Samaritan, a half-breed heretical layman, is free enough to stoop down and help the man in the ditch.
He’s dead to the law, impure from the start. Ritual purity is the least of his concerns. He needs no commandment; he seeks no reward. He is free to help the man in the ditch for no other reason than the man needs help, and his help far exceeds what the law required precisely because he acts in freedom.
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