In last week’s post I began a study of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Today I want to dive in to another aspect of this story. That is why did the Priest and the Levite pass by?
Now to be sure there is no right answer to this. Jesus doesn’t say and it is for sure not the point of the parable. Not only that but this is a parable not a historical account. It’s not like this actually happened so we couldn’t ask them so to speak. But I think it’s interesting to think about.
For starters they should have stopped. Remember in the story this was a fellow Jew who was robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. In fact if what I’m thinking is true this was a fairly prominent Jew. And yet two people who represented the highest order of the Jewish culture of the day, and those seen by others as closet to God, don’t stop. They pass by on the other side of the road.
But the real reason I’m posing the question is far more important. The real question I’m asking is why do we pass by?
This is of course a bit of a hypothetical and individual question. But I think it’s pretty easy to pick out some trends. You could ask it in reverse, by asking why does someone stop.
What makes someone stop to help vs. not stopping. Is it knowledge? Is it belief? Is it faith? Is it love?
Here are a few reasons that I know we don’t stop.
The first reason we don’t stop is that we are “too busy” with our own agenda. This includes by the way “Godly agendas” such as ministry.
In a famous study at Princeton Seminary in the early 1970’s some professors decided to try this out. I’m not going to go through the entire process. For a great short version of the data you can read about it here. But here are the cliffs.
They set up a fake project on religious studies for some seminarians. They had them complete a task and then sent them to complete a second task in a different building. Along the way they had a guy who acted hurt or sick sitting on the ground in their path.
They gave them varied time frames to get to the second building. Some they told that they were already running late, while others were told that they had time, but they might as well head on over. Some were told the project was about preparing a talk about seminary jobs and others were told they were going to work on a talk about, you guessed it, the good Samaritan.
Overall only 40% of the students offered some kind of help to the man. In high hurry situations only 10% offered. The project they were to be working on (either the seminary jobs or the talk on the good Samaritan) had zero impact on who stopped.
There is so much here.
First we are self focused. Even when we know we should stop. Second, what we know and believe doesn’t necessarily translate into actions. I mean they were at a seminary.
This plays out in our lives in all sorts of ways. I remember asking a group of adult volunteers why they don’t dive in deeper with people Why do we stay at the surface. One guy gave a great answer. He said, “Well in truth, a lot of times I think that if I go there with someone it’s going to require a lot. It’s most likely not going to be a short conversation. But even worse, I’m going to have to follow up. I don’t want to do that.”
I think the basic reason we don’t stop is fear.
We fear not getting things done that we need to. We fear missing out on what we were about to do. We fear the mess. We fear being uncomfortable. Heck, in the parable you could argue that the Priest and the Levite could even fear for their safety. After all, this man had been assaulted. It’s obviously a dangerous road. Best to just keep moving. And that’s not completely unfair.
Now I get that there are times not to literally stop. Maybe we see a dangerous situation. But can I not call for help? I can still act. Acting is at least in some way stopping. But not acting is for sure passing by on the other side of the road.
We pass by on the other side constantly. We pass by the person who we know needs help. We pass by the person who we know needs our time. We pass by the next question in a conversation. We pass by.
Why do you pass by?
A mentor of mine once said that we make every decision out of one of two places. Out of fear or out of love. Love stops. Fear passes by.