While reading the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) I had to think about a conversation I had with a Jewish friend. We were talking about rituals and he told me about the offering of a red heifer (Numbers 19). Death is the ultimate sin and touching death makes you (ritually) impure. The only way to lift this impurity is by offering a red heifer. My friend told me that there is a very specific type of cow needed and that this type of cow is actually extinct. I, with my western European protestant christian world view, asked him what else could be done. His reply was simple: "You just live with the sin".
The parable of the Good Samaritan
What does this mean for the interpretation of Jesus' parable? Most of the time the choice of the Priest and the Levite are viewed as morally wrong. While the Good Samaritan makes the morally correct choice. This is a realty black an white interpretation. I think that the expert in law had a hard time to answer Jesus' question. Not only because cultural differences (the fact that they disliked each other) between Jews an Samaritans, but because the Priest and the Levite did right by the law, thus weren't morally wrong.
Why did the Priest and the Levite make the right choice. We, as modern western (or at least influenced by western thought) people, listen to this parable with ideas like human rights in the back of our minds. These ideas didn't exists 2000 years ago. In the time of Jesus in Israel there were a lot of laws, the laws were given by God and these laws had to be kept strictly. Jesus proposes a dilemma here: What is God's will? The Priest and the Levite kept the laws by not touching a, what they thought was, death body. Keeping God's laws should be the morally correct choice, shouldn't it? Jesus reinterprets a common idea: not the literal laws are important, but the way you read it. They need interpretation. On the other side of this parable there is the Samaritan. The Israelis are told in the books of Moses that they shouldn't marry pagans. This was still strong in the days of Jesus. Samaritans came forth from mixed ancestors, which is one of the conflicts between these groups. Now a man, an expected enemy, becomes a helper of this wounded man at high costs on his own side.
The expert in law is given a hard choice to make. I think he would have hesitated for a while. Well... I would have if I were in his shoes. Decide against everything you were brought up with? Decide which commandment of God is better than the other? Ultimately he has to admit that portraying God's love is more important than to keep the law. And that's exactly what Jesus was trying to tell him and us.