Reflections on Luke 10:30-32
And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also…
The mood suddenly shifts. Jesus feels the attack. Everybody does – quenching the joy of these past hours. But why did this happen? This man had the right answer.
Is it possible he didn’t have the right heart?
Jesus decides to find out. Of course, He could say what He has said so many times before: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” 1 But will that do it? Will it touch the dark place in his soul that doesn’t seem to understand that when God is loved, truly loved -- even our greatest enemy is our neighbor?
No, the man is blind to these things.
It’s better to tell story, Jesus decides. Simple, real to life, down to earth story -- even a child could understand. Maybe this will help him see what he can’t see.
“A man,” He begins, loud enough for the crowd to hear.
He doesn’t give the man a name. No country of origin – is he Roman? Is he Jewish? Is he educated? Wealthy or poor? Young or old? Is he living a moral life – blameless before God and the elders of His people? Jesus doesn’t say. He gives us no facts – making it impossible for His hearers to assess whether this man is worthy of being called, “neighbor”.
He tells only this: the man was traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and he “fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.” This was common, everyday news. It happened all the time. Of all roads, this one was most dangerous. Thieves, bandits, men of evil would lurk in shadows, attack at random, and beat their victims senseless. 2
And there he is – bloodied, naked, beyond recognition.
Why not end the story here? All Jesus needs to do is ask the lawyer: “How about this man? Will you love him as your neighbor?”
But no, He keeps going. He decides to press and press hard. In a stunning move, bold, confrontive, and intensely personal -- a priest appears in the story. He’s walking the same road. Breathing the same air. And finding himself only a few feet away from the beaten man, barely alive. He sees him with his own eyes.
Of all people -- a priest. A man of equal standing with the lawyer. 3
And what does the priest do? Does he love this man as his neighbor?
Answer: No, he does not.
To make matters worse, another man passes by. This time, a Levite. All of them – priest, Levite, lawyer – they’re all colleagues. They’re men of highest reputation in Jewish society. They’re educated by the greatest scholars of their time. They’re responsible before God to know His Law and teach it to the people of Israel. So how do these great men handle the question, “who is my neighbor?” in real life, real time, when he’s lying in front of them bloodied and half dead?
Answer: They do nothing. They pass him by.
If only Jesus stopped the story right there, got into the lawyer’s face, and asked in disgust, “Who does this? What kind of person leaves him there to die?” And then answer it – speaking straight into the darkness of the lawyer’s soul.
“You people know the right answer. But you have no idea what it means.”
* * *
“I’ll do better,” I promised Leslie.
He looked out his office window and thought for a moment. I watched as he slowly shook his head, looked back at me, and said, “I don’t think so. You’re too driven by performance and I’m not interested. I think we’re done here.”
“I don’t want you in the program.”
I sat there in silence like he’d hit me across the face and hit me so hard I couldn’t even feel it yet. My first thought -- he didn’t mean it. Maybe he was testing me? But the pain started, a hot searing pain in my heart, as tears flooded my eyes. Everything I’d worked for these past few years suddenly felt like it was crashing down on top of me.
“But I have to stay,” I whispered, afraid my voice wasn’t stable.
Leslie never took his eyes off mine. His face kind, compassionate. His eyes soft and understanding. He made no effort to speak – not at first.
“Ok, I’ll tell you what,” he finally said, almost whispering back. “Tomorrow is Friday. Take the day off. Go home, talk with your wife and say your prayers. If you’re back here on Monday, I’ll know it’s because you want God’s heart for the people here – to love them more than you love yourself. Is that a deal?”
I nodded and thanked him. But what he said – stung.
“He’s right,” I told Erilynne when I got home that night. “I don’t want to be there. When I’m on the floor with the patients, I’m just doing my job, watching the clock, wishing I was somewhere else – anywhere else. I treat the patients like they’re patients, not people. I don’t love them – not like I should.”
The more we talked, the more I realized how cold my heart had become.
Later that night, as we prayed together, Erilynne felt like we should talk to our pastor. So we did, after church that Sunday.
His reaction surprised us. “Well, as hard as this to hear,” he smiled, “I think its good news. It sounds to me like you’re at this hospital by divine appointment. The Lord is clearly in charge here and has appointed this place, this time, and these people to do a work in your heart – if you’re willing and ready.”
“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” I confessed.
“I didn’t think so. And that may be part of the problem.”
We both looked at him, confused.
“If being at this hospital is, in fact, God’s plan for your life then you need to understand something. The bishop was right about you. He prayed, heard from God, and followed His lead. Let me say it another way. He is for you – not against you. It may be, once you accept this, you’ll find a new freedom to embrace this summer like you’ve never dreamed. The Lord has something in mind. If I were you, I’d find out what it is.”
No! I wanted to protest. I wasn’t ready to let go of my anger against the bishop. Are you kidding? This summer is God’s plan for my life?
But, somewhere deep inside, I knew he was right.
“I think I agree,” Erilynne said, looking at me.
“I guess I do too,” I nodded, as our pastor put his arms around us and prayed for me to have a change of mind and a change of heart toward the bishop, the summer program, and each person on my hospital ward.
The prayer was perfect. It was exactly what I needed. On Monday morning, before I left for the hospital, Erilynne and I prayed it again. We asked the Lord to give me His heart – give me His love -- for Leslie and my classmates.
And especially the people on my floor.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Leslie said when I got there. He kindly reached out his hand to welcome me. “How was the weekend?”
“Hard,” I said, honestly. “But good.”
“Are you ready to talk about it with the class?”
“I’d like to – if that’s ok?”
He smiled and said, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
And I did. A little later that morning, when we were all together, I told them everything – including my last conversation with Leslie. “He asked me not to come back and he was right to say it. I came here with the wrong attitude. My heart, my focus, hasn’t been here with you or Leslie or with the people in this hospital. I need to say to each of you – ‘I am sorry’ and ask your forgiveness.”
“So what changed?” Leslie prompted.
“My wife and I met with our pastor after church yesterday. He helped us see that it’s God’s will for me to be here. If that’s true, then I have a lot to learn – from my bishop, from you all, and from the people on my floor.”
Leslie looked at my classmates and asked them to respond. Surprisingly, they were more than gracious. They thanked me for my honesty and offered their help. It couldn’t have gone better.
“What about you?” one of my classmates asked Leslie, almost as a tease. “Are you going to let him stay?”
“I think so, for now,” Leslie replied with a more serious tone than I expected. “He’s got the right answer. But only time will tell if he has the right heart.”
1 Luke 6:27
2 Joel B. Green writes in his commentary on Luke, “Realistic, too, is the picture of violence on the road, since travel in general – and especially travel on this particular road – was replete with danger.” The Gospel of Luke, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI. 1997, p. 430
3 The lawyer in this story could well have been a priest since “priests functioned as experts on the law, when not performing their priestly duties at the temple.” The two men are almost indistinguishable. Ibid., p. 427
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