Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” Luke 10:30-33 (NKJV)
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a very treacherous road. It was about 17 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road was filled with narrow rocky passages with sudden turns that made it a favorite place for bandits to waylay travelers. There were also many caves and hiding places along this route that made catching the bandits almost impossible. Anyone who traveled this road took their lives in their own hands. It would be similar to going for walk at night through the inner city streets of N.Y.C. or Chicago.
The man who was attacked in our story would have known about the danger of traveling along this road and decided to take his chances. Unfortunately, the bandits saw him walking along and made their move. By the time they were through with him he had been stripped naked, badly beaten up and left for dead. Needless to say, he’s had better days.
As this man lay there naked, bleeding and basically dying, someone else comes walking down the road. Jesus says it was a Jewish priest. To those that were listening to Jesus tell this story this man would have been one of the good guys. It was like the Lone Ranger coming to save the day. Their expectation was for Jesus to say that the priest walked over and helped the man, but that isn’t what Jesus said.
The Jewish priest walked right past the man. Now this wasn’t an accident where he just didn’t notice the man and missed an opportunity to help. He not only saw the man, but after seeing the man, he crosses the road so he wouldn’t even have to get close to him, much less help him. This would have been shocking to those listening to Jesus.
Then a Levite walks by. The Levites job was to assist the priests in working in the temple. This was also someone that the listeners would have expected to be one of the good guys. They were probably thinking, “Ahh, well where the priest failed, this Levite will make up for it.” However, that isn’t what happened. The Levite walked up, looked at him and then crossed the road and went on by.
Why would these men who were supposed to be righteous, godly men ignore this wounded man? There is no reason to believe that the wounded man is anything other than a Jewish man himself. Honestly, we don’t know for sure. Here are some possible reasons.
They were afraid of being defiled. It is possible that they were afraid he was dead and they didn’t want to defile themselves. Jewish law said that anyone who touches a dead person would be ceremonially unclean for seven days. This would have hindered both men in their work in the Temple.
They were afraid for their own safety. Perhaps they thought it was a trap. It wasn’t uncommon for one bandit to pose as a victim and when people came to check on him, the other bandits would jump out and get them.
They were too busy. It is possible that both men were in a hurry to get somewhere and were afraid that taking the time to help this man would make them late.
They were sure someone else would help. Maybe they both just figured someone else would come along and help him.
It was beneath them. It is possible that because of their position in life they felt that less important and more ordinary Jews should get involved in situations like this.
It was too messy. As I understand the man’s predicament, he was naked and bleeding. Perhaps they didn’t want to get involved in something that was as messy as this was.
They were self-absorbed. Maybe they just didn’t care about anyone but themselves.
Whatever the reason, the result was the same. They ignored another human being in his time of need. In the end, I tend to think there was something wrong with these men’s eyes. I don’t mean there was something physically wrong with their eyes. It was something deeper than that. The problem with their eyes was that they didn’t see with compassion. This lack of compassion allowed them to look at this man and not see their need to do anything to help. This lack of compassion allowed them to see without really seeing.
Do you want to know what really bothers me the most about these men? What bothers me most about these men is that I can see myself in them. I can’t count the times that I’ve seen without really seeing. The times I’ve looked past someone in need because the thought of getting involved made me uncomfortable, or because I didn’t feel I had time, or because I felt that someone else would come along to help, or because I was so caught up in my own life that I couldn’t be bothered to help another person. Can anyone else relate to this?
We desperately need to look at the world and really see. To really see isn’t to see anything external. In fact, really seeing causes us to look beyond the external. To really see isn’t to see that they brought these problems on themselves. To really see is to view the world and the people around us as Jesus did.
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (NKJV)
When Jesus looked at this crowd of people that were coming to Him, He didn’t look at them through eyes that were filled with judgment. Instead, He looked at them with eyes that were filled with compassion. As He looked at them, He also saw their need instead of their faults, their confusion instead of their race and their pain instead of their sin.
One of the reasons it is so astounding to me that Jesus saw the multitudes in this fashion is because of who Jesus is. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. In His sinless perfection, Jesus really was better than everyone coming to Him. If anyone had the right to look down on others with a sense of superiority, it was Jesus.
Jesus is omniscient. As He looked at the crowd, Jesus didn’t have to guess at what they had done wrong, He didn’t have to rely on what someone at work told him they’d done wrong. He had a perfect knowledge of what they had done. He not only knew what they had done, He knew the motivations behind their actions. He would have been perfectly correct and just for looking at the crowd in judgment and condemnation but He didn’t. Instead, He looked on them with eyes of compassion.
How often have we looked on others with condemnation while covering up sin in our own hearts? How often have we looked on others with condemnation when the only real difference between us and them was that they had been caught and we hadn’t? How often have we looked on others with condemnation because of what someone had told us only to find out that the story was wrong or at least incomplete? God forgive us for our sinful, self-righteous condemnation of others.
If we are going to love our neighbors by helping them in their time of need, then we must be able to look at them with eyes of compassion instead of judgment. This means that must look beyond their faults and see their needs, look beyond their sin and see their pain, look beyond their race and see their confusion. To love as Jesus loved we must see as Jesus saw and this requires compassion.