An Unclean Priest
We are in the midst of a pastor-exchange. Yesterday our church enjoyed a visit from Joe Kenaston, who is the pastor at Lewisburg United Methodist Church, but grew up in our church. Next week, our pastor, who grew up in Lewisburg UMC, will travel there to preach. Cool idea.
Joe's sermon yesterday was about the Good Samaritan. The problem that I have found when I teach about a commonly know parable, such as this one, is that it is difficult to present it in a refreshing way. In fact, one Sunday I was teaching a lesson based on the Prodigal Son. My mom, who was not going to be able to come to class, asked what I was teaching about. When I told her, she replied, "Oh, I already know about that one." It makes for a challenge.
Anyway, Joe did a terrific job with the sermon and the parable, presenting different viewpoints, and giving me new food for thought. I've been thinking about the Good Samaritan parable, trying to see it from a different angles, and it brought to mind the question, "What about the priest and the Levite? What happened to them?" From these questions arose the following little story, which is, of course, not scriptural at all. I also think it is kind of predictable and cheesy, but I post it here anyway, because, well, that's what I do.
One day Jesus was walking by the temple. He was alone. Those who usually traveled with him were on various errands, and Jesus had a few moments to spend by himself. Solitude was a rarity, and his plan was to spend some time in the quiet of the temple.
Sitting on the ground outside the entrance to the temple, in the dust and heat, was a man. He looked dejected, abandoned, alone. Jesus sat down in the dirt beside him, and said nothing.
Finally the man spoke, “I am a priest!” His words were forceful, as if he hoped to convince himself of the fact.
“Why are you sitting out here in the dirt?” asked Jesus.
“I can’t go in to the temple.”
“Why not? Are you unclean?”
“No,” the man snapped. “I am clean, and that is the problem.” Jesus said nothing, and waited for him to continue. “I was walking here from my home in Jericho, and I passed by a man in a ditch. He had been beaten and hurt, stripped of his clothes. He was covered in blood and flies. I was sure that he was dead.”
“What did you do?”
“I crossed the road so that I wouldn’t have to go near him.” The man whipped his head around to look at Jesus, as if Jesus had spoken an accusation. “I thought he was dead. It is the law; I had to stay away from him.” The man continued to look at Jesus, but his voice dropped to a whisper. “But he wasn’t dead.”
“How do you know?”
“I stopped and spent the night at an inn on the way here. It’s a long, hard trip, and it was getting dark. The next morning I was preparing to leave to continue on to Jerusalem. I overhead the innkeeper speaking to a Samaritan.” The man spat out the word, as if it were filthy. “The Samaritan had stopped to help the man. He had spent the night caring for him and was leaving money with the innkeeper so that the man could stay at the inn and recover.”
“What did you do next?”
“I had to go see. Before I left, I went back into the inn to see the man I had passed by. He was asleep; his face covered with bruises. I could tell though, through the bruises. I knew him. He lives in my village near Jericho. I know him; I know his children and his wife. I had left him for dead in a ditch.” He looked away from Jesus, as if looking at him was too difficult. “I couldn’t stand for him to know what I had done, so I left him at the inn.” He looked back at Jesus, desperate for answers, “I did what was right. I followed the law. Why do I feel like this dirt that we are sitting in?”
Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “You know the law. You are a wise and devoted priest. And yet for all of this, you do not know God at all.”
“What do I do?”
“Stay here by the temple for a little while longer. You’ll know what to do.” Jesus stood up and went into the temple, leaving the man alone.
Jesus’ touch had brought healing to the priest. Finally, he realized that he shouldn’t be sitting in the dirt; he had a job to do. He made some arrangements, and then traveled back down to the mountain from Jerusalem toward Jericho. He stopped at the inn and went into to see the injured man. He explained everything to his neighbor, and asked his forgiveness. They stayed together at the inn until the injured man was ready to travel, and then the priest took the man back home to Jericho to his family.
Once more the priest headed for Jerusalem, finally clean.