We conclude our series on “What makes the Holy Land holy” by looking at Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan (please read the story in Luke 10:25–37). On our pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank we visited a place traditionally viewed as like the place Jesus described in his story. The story is told in response to questions by a defender of priestly holiness, a scribe who asks Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus throws the question back at the man. “What is written in the Law?” The man answers correctly that loving God wholly and loving your neighbor as yourself is the central call of God’s people. Jesus affirms the man’s answer. Then the scribe, wishing to justify himself, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Through this interchange the scribe is asking here about (1) the nature of Yahweh’s holiness and (2) the ethical implications of holiness for human relations.
Jesus responds to the scribe by telling the story of a man who fell among robbers. The man, according to Jewish law, became unclean and unholy at the moment of assault. Jesus then describes the actions of two holy men, a Levite and a priest. The reason the Levite and the priest passed by the stricken man on the other side of the road is that they wanted to avoid becoming unclean by Law. They wanted to stay faithful to the priestly code of holiness. But as I have tried to show in this series, the logic of this position leads to the most egregious lack of ethical and empathetic sensitivity. Sole concern for priestly holiness leads to death because it denies the true nature of holiness revealed in the Law and the Prophets and ultimately in Jesus Christ.
Long before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah condemned “priestly” holiness that did not lead to embrace of the other in need. In Isaiah 58, Israel complains that God seems to show no interest in their “orthodox” worship, focused on fasting.
“Why do we fast, but you (Yahweh) do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (v. 3)
Israel fasted to demonstrate their “priestly” commitment to a holy God. But God has no regard for their worship in this way. What is lacking is their commitment to justice and concern for the poor, the center of God’s holy character.
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day / and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight, / and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting you do today will not make your voice heard on high …
Is this not the fast I choose, / to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke, / to let the oppressed go free, /
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house,
to cover [the naked] and not to hide yourself from your own kin (4–7)
It’s only when our worship of the holy God translates into our commitment to the elimination of injustice and the extravagance of mercy that God’s people are true to God and to themselves.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly,
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard (v. 8)
Shockingly, only the unclean Samaritan acted in holiness and made that road to Jerusalem holy in Jesus’ story. Those we met in Palestine who sought mercy and justice for all persons acted in the name of God’s holiness against the unholy treatment of Palestinians in the Holy Land. By contrast, Zionism seems to be walking on the other side of the road.