Larry Christenson is the author of numerous books, including The Renewed Mind, and The Christian Family. He writes from Northfield, Minnesota.
A sympathetic Samaritan came upon a man who had fallen among thieves on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. They had beaten and robbed the man and left him for dead. The sympathetic Samaritan watched from the side of the road for some time. A priest happened along, but he passed by on the other side and did not help the poor man. A Levite came along, but he passed by on the other side also.
The sympathetic Samaritan sat in a ditch on the other side of the road. The longer he sat there the angrier he became. "This is not right," he fumed.
That poor man ought to be helped. That priest should have helped. That Levite, too. There ought to be a law . . .
The sympathetic Samaritan leaped suddenly to his feet. Of course! Why hadn't he thought of it before? That was the answer: there ought to be a law!
He raced back to Jerusalem and formed a Committee to Promote Legislation for the Help of Unfortunate Travelers Who Fall Among Thieves. The local rabbi, a charitably inclined man, gave support. The widow of the former high priest lent her prestige to form a Women's Auxiliary of the CTPLFTHOUTWFAT. The director of the synagogue school wrote a scroll attacking mean-spirited Priests and Levites. Students at the College of Scribes held a placard-carrying demonstration in front of the Temple.
Unfortunate Travelers Deserve Compassion!/Fairness and equality for unfortunate travelers./Tithes for travelers, or feasts for priests?/Unfortunate travelers are everybody's concern./Priests and Levites must pay their fair share!
The pressure of popular opinion swayed the Sanhedrin. A measure was introduced to levy a graduated tithe to provide Aid For Unfortunate Travelers on the Road Between Jericho and Jerusalem.
Some Sadducees voiced the opinion that this would violate the Commandment against theft. Reasoned their spokesman:
People are free to help Unfortunate Travelers as much as they please, but if we confiscate shekels from those who do not share a concern for Unfortunate Travelers - who prefer to help, let us say, widows and orphans - we cross a line that leads to legalized theft.
"If we left it up to voluntary giving," shouted a Pharisee, "Unfortunate Travelers would never get the help they need!"
"Perhaps," the Sadducee agreed, "but theft remains theft whether for a good cause or a base one."
A young Pharisee from the Negev leaped to his feet:
A priest and a Levite passed by this unfortunate traveler without lifting a finger to help. Such neglect cannot be tolerated.
Are we, or are we not, our brother's keeper?
"The law gives you no right to force a man to help Unfortunate Travelers," replied the Sadducee.
This, in fact, crosses another line - the commandment against coveting. Those advocating help for unfortunate travelers are not content to do the helping themselves. They cast greedy eyes on the wealth of others and seek to confiscate it in support of their project. There may be people on whom God has laid no concern for this particular project.
I am more concerned for the heart-rending plight of unfortunate travelers than for the luxury of priests and Levites.
Retorted a Pharisee loftily. "They can easily enough spare the tithe . . . will have plenty left over!"
The Sadducee rolled out a scroll.
The law says: "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great." The rights of a man under the law cannot be set aside by the Sanhedrin or by popular opinion. You can no more steal the property of a rich man than you can breach the right of a poor man to speak freely in the Gate. The fact that a man is unfortunate does not give you the right to steal or covet on his behalf.
The arguments of the Sadducees fell on deaf ears. The statute to Aid Unfortunate Travelers On The Road Between Jericho and Jerusalem was added to the law. The Sanhedrin appointed a 32-man commission to see to the needs of unfortunate travelers. The tithe collectors began their rounds to see that every citizen contributed his fair share to help unfortunate travelers.
When word of the law drifted northward to Galilee, people in Cana began to pressure their Pharisee to provide Emergency Assistance For Bridegrooms Whose Wine Runs Out Before The End Of The Wedding Feast. Pharisees in Capernaum drafted a proposal to Provide Bread And Fish For Large Crowds Who Find Themselves Short Of Provisions In The Desert Near Sundown.
In Samaria the sympathetic Samaritan was feted by his friends, who had trumpeted the cause of unfortunate travelers for some years past. "If we extend this to other projects in small doses," they exulted, "we will soon have enough power to move the capital from Jerusalem to Samaria!" *