Sunday 29th June 2014
We have travelled down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho several times – on our trip to Jericho, to the Galilee, and to the River Jordan. It is on this road that Jesus set one of his most famous parables, the story of the Good Samaritan. It is in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 10, Verses 25-37.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
A few reflections. The road from Jerusalem down to Jericho is certainly down. It descends from about 800 meters above sea level to 400 metres below sea level, making it one of the steepest descents over that distance in the world.
Secondly, the road is through the Judaean wilderness. It is barren, rocky country.
It is easy to imagine bandits lying in wait here to prey on vulnerable, single travellers. It had such a reputation in Jesus’ day. So his hearers would not have been surprised that a long traveller would have been accosted. They would probably have said, “He was asking for it!” And is this not the same sort of accusation we use against people in need today!?!
The story or parable is a typical rabbinic style of discourse, of argument – also used by sages and saints in many religious traditions – as a way of getting one’s point across. The seemingly innocent story form gets past the defensive barriers that otherwise would prevent the point from getting through!
The structure of the story using three characters is a bit like the traditional structure of nationalist jokes which begin with “an Irishman, an Englishman and a Aussie went into a pub ….”, or whatever other nationality is to be the butt of the joke! In Jesus’ case, the listeners would have expected “a priest, a Levite and an Israelite”. They would have been very surprised that the priest did not help the man in need, but then would have expected the Levite to do so. When he also passed by, they would have been sure that the next expected character, the Israelite, would certainly do the right thing. So they would have been astonished to hear that it was a Samaritan!!! Samaritans were regarded as heretics, as traitors to the national cause, as enemies, who would never do any good deed, but who were evil and could only do evil deeds. Imagine then, the listeners’ astonishment, at the lavish care that the Samaritan provided for the man in need.
The Samaritans continue to exist today, though they are very small, numbering perhaps in the hundreds. They continue to observe their religious rituals of synagogue and festivals on Mt Gerizim. Here is a poster showing some of the religious celebrations.
According to a Jewish scholar of the New Testamant, Amy Jill-Levine, perhaps a modern day equivalent of the ‘Samaritan’ would be if the story was told and the third character, instead of being a Samaritan, was a member of Hamas. Given the hostile political atmosphere, would an Israeli listener expect any good from Hamas? Would they not expect him rather to take advantage of the opportunity, to finish off the one who was “half-dead”!? Yes the Samaritan/Hamas lavishes compassion on the one in need.
We need eyes that see in others not labels, not nationalities, not religions, but human beings, like ourselves. Then it is likely that we will be “moved with pity” for those in need and act accordingly, in respect for their human dignity, in accord with our equally shared human dignity.
If you want a clue to the animosity between Israelites and Samaritans in Jesus’ time, note that when Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”, the lawyer could not even bring himself to take the hated name “Samaritan” on his lips, as Jesus had done in telling the story, but instead replied using a euphemism, saying, “The one who showed him mercy.” (You can also read something of the hostility between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus time in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4)
So you can imagine the utter astonishment of Jesus’ listeners when he proposes that the hated Samaritan is a model for behaviour, “Go and do likewise”. Maybe we too need to learn from others whom “official” society despises, the poor, the needy, the asylum seeker, those who are different in any way, be it race, gender, religion or sexual orientation!??!
I have heard it said that a smart entrepreneur set up a hotel/restaurant on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and named it the Good Samaritan Inn, claiming that this was the actual place to which the Samaritan brought the person in need, even though the Samaritan is only a character in Jesus’ story/parable!
However, there is a place on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho that is called “The Inn of the Good Samaritan”. It is a museum with mostly mosaics but also including some stone carvings from Jewish and Samaritan synagogues and from ancient Christian Byzantine churches. It is wonderful that it is a joint museum of the three religions, showing a similar “hospitality” to the other that is presented in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Here are some of the items on display:
Given all the mosaics in stone, carvings in stone, buildings in stone and the stone ruins that I have seen in the past week, it is perhaps not surprising that I find living plants so refreshing to the eyes and to the spirit. So I continue to follow the ancient bovine wisdom of taking time to eat the flowers!
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!