In response to a question asking “Who is my neighbor?” Yeshua told the following parable:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30–32)
When Yeshua told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he used the imagery of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho falling into the hands of bandits. Left for dead, his only hope was for a fellow traveler to notice and have pity on him. His first hope was from a Kohen (priest), whose duty was to minister to the LORD on behalf of the children of Israel. His piety would have been assumed by Yeshua’s audience, and he would have been the naturally anticipated hero to the story. However, as we know, the Kohen passes him by without stopping.
Yeshua next introduces a Levite, one whose duty was similar to the Kohen, but functioned more like an assistant to the Kohanim (priests) in the Temple. Surely, he would stop and help this man who was struggling for his life. But no, the Levite passes him by and continues on his way just as the Kohen. At this point, Yeshua’s audience was surely shocked that neither the Kohen nor the Levite turned out to be the hero of the story. But before we discuss Yeshua’s surprise ending to his parable, we need to try and understand why Yeshua would have had both the Kohen and the Levite pass up this poor man struggling for his life. Why did both the Kohen and the Levite pass up the dying man?
Our answer begins with the regulations for the priesthood found in Leviticus 21: