I have heard a lot of reasons why the priest didn’t help the poor guy laying on the side of the road in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus doesn’t say but his listeners may have been able to fill in the blank very quickly, he didn’t want to become ceremonially unclean. That is what the law prescribed for the priest. He was to avoid all situations that would cause him to become incapable of doing his priestly duties. It was the priest’s obligation to move to the other side of the road and walk on by. All the people standing around Jesus may have very well been shaking their heads “yes, that is what the priest should do.”
But if they did, they were missing the whole point. Jesus is answering the question, “Who is my neighbor? Who am I suppose to love like myself?” One of the passages that always comes to mind when faced with this type of question is Isaiah 58. There we find religious people doing religious things and God condemns them. He says through Isaiah, “You are missing the whole point!” The laws are there to help you fulfill the two primary commandments, love God with everything you are, love people with everything you are. Don’t use the law as an excuse to avoid caring for others.
The priest should have seen the man in need and cared. He should have immediately stopped and helped the man. That one man’s needs were greater than the ritual purity for the priest. The law dictated that the priest would not be permitted to do his duties in the temple if he became unclean, not that he was forbidden to help a person lying on the side of the road, beaten, naked, and left for dead. His duties in the temple could be taken over by another priest. He on the other hand might have been the only one that could help that one man. He didn’t know and he should have cared enough.
It is very easy to be like the priest and walk on by those in need. We can come up with all kinds of legitimate excuses. But who will excuse us? Jesus calls us to love, to care, to be the good Samaritan.
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
…Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help,
and he will say: “Here am I.” -Isaiah 58:9