“But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed came where he was: and when he saw him he had compassion on him. And went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine and set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Luke 10:33-34
The tired traveler never intended to go home by that way. For that particular road from Jerusalem to Jericho was well-known for its many places of entrapment and for its roving bands of robbers who waited in ambush for the unwary and unsuspecting traveler. Many a lone man and caravan had been waylaid by thieves and thugs along this route.
But the man had spent four days in Jerusalem on business, instead of the two for which he had planned, and now he was eager to be home before the Sabbath began. Even though he was a Samaritan, he rigorously kept the Sabbath Day. And so, he took the shorter, however the more dangerous, route to his home just on the outskirts of Jericho.
He was apprehensive, being a solitary traveler, and that probably accounted for the double safety measures which he took for his own person and for his meager possessions and the few coins which he had finally gained after the long and shrill bargaining session in Jerusalem. Then, too, he had his flask of wine and small jug of oil without which no serious traveler ever set out on a journey. He felt confident also about his donkey who was steady and dependable, neither skittish nor whimsical as so many of his species were inclined to be.
Nevertheless, he was keenly aware that each of his senses must stay alert on the rocky road which dropped precipitously from Jerusalem to Jericho. The road was steep and uneven and dropped some 4000 feet in about 15 miles. He must try not to let his mind wander, neither to recall the events which had transpired on this trading excursion in Jerusalem—especially the despicable Jew with whom he had done business at the Temple —nor to muse on the strange but wonderful Rabbi whom he had happened to hear in Jerusalem. No, he must concentrate totally against the snare of ambush. For around any bend in this twisted and winding road could lurk the bandits so dreaded by the innocent wayfarer.
Tall spiked shrubs, thick coarse grasses, and tangled vines and thickets provided concealed protection for the thieves who laid in wait. Rocky niches, stony cul-de-sacs, and old crumbling walls afforded ideal hiding places for the murderous villains who preyed upon the hard work and industry of others. One even had to be alert to overhead dangers. For thieves could easily hide themselves in the large-leafed branches of fig and sycamore tree, dropping down with brutal suddenness on the unsuspecting traveler.
The man’s eyes strained to detect any movement or rustling in bramble or bush. His ears stretched to catch any sudden or unusual call of bird or animal. And his own donkey plodded faithfully by his side, his large pointed ears twitching regularly against the pesky flies and the occasional bee.
As the man focused sharply and intently upon the landscape about him, even the hunched and gnarled form of the olive tree took on the foreboding resemblance of thief and robber lurking on the path. Everything was dry and sere. Only the ribbon of oleander trees brightened the semi-baked ravines and the cracked stream beds.
After travelling some time in this way and with no immediate sign of trouble ahead, the man was eased of his tensions a bit, lured into reverie by the companionable squelching of the leather bags against the straps on his donkey. He began to reminisce on his business in Jerusalem, and, as was usual, he began to second-guess himself on the bargaining which he had done. It was always this way when dealing with a Jew, and that probably accounted in part for the fact that the Samaritan usually had no dealings with the Jews. What shysters those Jews were! Oh how wheedling and shrewd they were! Crying, complaining in their nasal, high-pitched voices that you were driving a hard and unfair bargain, all the while reaching with their greedy, greatly-veined hands for the goods which you could sell them.
Even now, the man was not sure that the Jew with whom he had done business had not gotten the better of him. Those wily sons of Abraham! Were it not for the fact that the man had to have a steady and dependable market for his olive goods, he would not even consider dealing with a Jew. But, he owned a productive but small olive grove on the outskirts of Jericho and the olive oil which he was able to squeeze from the succulent fruit was much sought after by the Temple merchants in Jerusalem. He and his wife had a special knack for timing the plucking of these olives, crushing them between two heavy stones. But the real secret for his product came in the curing of the olive oil —allowing the oil to stand in specially-prepared earthenware jars conducive to its final texture and sweetness. Even the oil which he sold of inferior quality was used for the little clay lamps which brightened and cheered the humble peasant’s home.
Had it not been for the Great Teacher which the man had heard in Jerusalem, this trip would have been drearily like every other trip which he had taken. The haggling, the arguing, the torrent of ‘raised voices, the arms and hands gesticulating in wild entreaty over product and price. The all-pervading smell of penned animals, the unwashed people, the chickens and other poultry scurrying through the streets. How could the Jew be so inordinately proud of his Temple in Jerusalem? To a foreigner, such as he was, the Temple seemed but just another dirty bazaar like that to be found in any large mercantile city. No sanctity or holiness could in any outward way be ascribed to it. Gerizim seemed a paragon of purity in its comparison. The hatred and bitterness of his ancestors towards the Jews throbbed anew within him. Sometimes the man wondered how such violent antipathy had originated. Regardless, he knew in the very marrow of his bones that as an upright and dedicated Samaritan it was his sacred duty to hate, and hate scathingly, the Jew! And he knew, too, that all that hatred was eagerly reciprocated by the Jew.
It was the Rabbi whom he had heard in Jerusalem which set this trip apart from all previous ones. In all his years he had never heard anything like it. How that Rabbi had preached! To be sure, the man had seen and heard many a Rabbi during his trips to Jerusalem. He could not have avoided hearing them even if he had wanted to. They stood on every corner pontificating in measured tones to the riff-raff which passed them. How carefully, however, they lifted the borders of their long robes to avoid touching the unkempt masses. Punctiliously they kept every outward code and convention. And how they loved to be greeted in the market place with the respectful cries of “Rabbi, Rabbi.” But this Rabbi —how very different he was. He spoke with such authority! And of what unfamiliar truths He spoke! He spoke of the first being last, and humbling yourself to be exalted. He spoke of calling not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He spoke of giving a crust of bread and a cup of cold water in Christ’s name. He spoke of clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and entertaining strangers. And, yes, He spoke of loving your enemies. . .and at its very remembrance the man dropped his eyes to the rocky path in front of him just as he had done in the marketplace where he had first heard these strange words fall from the Great Rabbi’s lips.
Come to think of it, even this Rabbi’s robe was different. His robe, though beautiful, was of simple cloth and had no phylacteries on it. Was He really a Rabbi? Secretly, the Samaritan was eager to return to Jerusalem in the hopes that he could hear the Rabbi from Nazareth once again. And His eyes —would he ever forget them? They pierced through a man, exposing his very soul; yet such a tenderness and compassion shone through them.
And then he saw it. Lying along the side of the road just a few feet ahead was a man. . .and he appeared to be dead or very close to it. Closer inspection revealed that this was not just any man, but a Jew. Wounded he certainly was, bleeding profusely from many gashes, stripped of all his earthly possessions, and his life’s blood fast ebbing out of him. Robbers, ironically, were no respecters of either Jew or Samaritan.
Involuntarily, the hostility of the centuries coursed through the man’s veins. So the Jew rejoiced when a Samaritan died? Aha! Now would he rejoice at the imminent death of this hapless Jew! So the Jew cursed the Samaritan in his synagogue? Well, curses of the ages upon you, helpless one! Ah! Sweet and final vengeance!
But why was he stopping? Already his hands were fumbling at the thongs on his saddle bag to get at the flask of wine and the bottle of oil which he carried for just such a contingency, while in his ears drummed the words, “Love your enemies. . . Do good to those that despitefully use you. . . Whosoever giveth a cup of cold water. .
With that intensity now he strove to save the dying man. Liberally, he doused the gaping wounds with wine to cleanse them. Lavishly, he splashed the oil on his wounds to ease the dying Jew’s pain and to bring the two sides of the gashes together. Having no bandages, the Samaritan took his own freshly-laundered tunic and tore strips from it to bind up the Jew’s wounds and gashes. Then gently and tenderly he lifted his age-old enemy upon his own beast, he himself almost running along urging the animal to greater activity.
And now, oddly enough, no longer was his heart hardened towards this stranger, but rather a great compassion and tenderness welled up within him. The wine with which he had cleansed this stranger’s wounds must have also splashed onto himself cleansing him of his bitter hatred; the oil which he had sloshed on this alien’s gashes must have spilled into his own soul soothing his hatred and spreading compassion and gentleness in its place.
In great haste, the man brought the mortally-wounded Jew to the nearest inn, adjuring the innkeeper to care for him well, paying him in advance, and promising to pay him again when he returned this way.
Once he was on the rocky path again, the man began to worry about what his wife would say. Not even the precious apricots which he had specially purchased for her from the Syrian merchant would placate such a wrath as she was bound to show. How his wife would scold that after these many days of bargaining and bartering he had so little to add to the old clay pot in which they saved the few coins not needed for daily living or necessary to put back into the olive grove.
There was no doubt about it, he would have to tell his wife that he had aided a badly mutilated and dying man —a Jew, no less. How else would he account for his own shredded tunic? He could imagine her fury when he told her the whole truth —how that he had promised the innkeeper that he would pay for the Jew’s further restoration to health and for his prolonged lodging when he made his next trek to Jerusalem. He covered his ears as he anticipated her shrill rebukes; he shaded his eyes as he envisioned the anguished wringing of her hands that she could be married to such a foolish man.
How could he ever explain to his wife that in the nursing of the enemy, he had even yearned towards him so that his deed of kindness far surpassed mere duty, but embodied mercy, gentleness, and compassion as well?
But the man would excuse the predicted responses of his wife. He would forgive the expressions of her feelings. For, after all, she had never heard the Great Rabbi in Jerusalem.
THOUGHTS FOR CONTEMPLATION – “When God is purely worshipped among us, and when true religion flourishes, it will be our best protection. We shall then be more impregnable than if we had all the power and wealth of the world: nothing can hurt us, if we give to God His due honor, and strive to worship Him in sincerity and truth.” John Calvin (on Jer. 50)
“However miserable our condition may be, it is yet better than the happiness which the ungodly seek for themselves in the world,” John Calvin (on Jer. 51)