In Jimmy Carter’s book, “Our Endangered Values,” he quotes Reverend Eloy Cruz with whom he had partnered to do ministry.“ ‘I asked him what made him so gentle but effective as a Christian witness,…[he answered in Spanish] (“Well, our Lord cannot do much with a man who is hard.”)…[Eloy] tried to follow a simple rule: ‘You only need two loves in your life: for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.’ Reverend Cruz had no doubt about the definition of “neighbor”’.
I always looked at this story of the Good Samaritan as purely a parable. There was no Samaritan, there was no priest; no Levite. Jesus had concocted a story so he could get this lawyer who accosted him to come up with his own answers to his own questions, “How do I obtain eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” And, there was no victim who had fallen prey to robbers.
Then I went to Israel/Palestine and Nigel Taber-Hamilton offered a challenge: Why is there so much detail in this parable that we don’t see in other parables that Jesus told? Was Jesus there; was this story from personal experience? Was Jesus the victim on the road to Jericho?
Now, if he was the victim, what does that mean? I’ve been mulling this in my heart and mind for well over a year now and I would like to share with you where this journey has taken me. I don’t know where it will lead in the future, just where I am now. I would like all of you to think about it and let me know sometime where it leads you.
First, is it possible Jesus was foolhardy enough to travel alone on the dangerous road to Jericho? We see in another Gospel account that Jesus would travel to Jerusalem alone and attend religious festivals and fast days at the Temple. We have a story from John 10 that we read on the 4th Sunday of Easter this year in which Jesus is attending the Festival of the Dedication and he is obviously alone. It tells us that he and the disciples did not always travel together even after his ministry began.
Jesus could have traveled between Jerusalem and Jericho alone. As a tekton, a craftsperson, he could carry his tools of trade from place to place for work--another reason to travel and also to be robbed by thieves as he traveled. The tools would have been valuable along with any payment he might have received for his labor. If the story really happened it appears that Jesus was not the only one traveling the road alone--there was the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan, too.
Having spent some time near the road to Jericho in the wee hours at sunrise, I can vouch for it being the best time of day to be out there. Once the sun rises, it gets very hot very quickly. I could see a workingman or anyone heading out early to get to the destination before the sun rose or returning after sunset, especially since the workday began at sunrise and ended at sunset.
Second, what about the amount of detail in the story? A specific place is mentioned, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. The assailants are robbers with the added details about the assault that the man was stripped, beaten, and left half dead. There are people who walked by--one a Levite, and the other a priest. In this detail there is also some condemnation, so it could be a literary device. The detail is that the two who passed by made the effort to move to the opposite side. Then the Samaritan came and he moved close to the victim and saw he needed help. The Samaritan also had an emotional response: he was moved with pity. His actions weren’t the result of a sense of duty--he felt bad that this man had been robbed and beaten and would likely die if left on his own.
Now we get even more detail. The rescuer bandaged the victim’s wounds after pouring oil and wine on them. The wine was to sanitize and the oil to soothe. He placed the man on his own animal and took him to a shelter where he took time to care for him. We get the exact amount of money paid to the host where they stayed: two days’ wages. And, the Samaritan’s words before he departed, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Lots of details.
Third, if Jesus was the victim, what does that mean to us? Jesus was human--we say that but we often don’t really believe it, or just can’t wrap our minds around it. What does it mean to be fully human and yet fully divine? I sure don’t know. But, what did Jesus DO? When he spent 40 days in the wilderness, he didn’t produce food and water as if he were a god--though in his conversation with Satan it came up. After Satan left him, he was ministered to by angels--that would have been remarkable but, not unprecedented. Jacob/Israel wrestled with God. Other figures in the Hebrew stories had received food and water from God like manna, birds bringing food, water pouring from rocks, etc. Jesus chose to be at the mercy of the elements for 40 days as others had done before him.
There was the crowd near Nazareth that threatened to throw him off a cliff and he just walked right through them. Was that his divinity or his bearing that backed them off? Then there is the story of his trial and crucifixion--no divine intervention there. If Jesus was the victim in the Good Samaritan story and it is true that he was fully human, what other scars did his body bear? The cuts and burns from childhood like the time he tried to use a knife when he was small? I still have a scar from a bad dismount from a carousel horse when I was very young. It opens all kinds of possibilities for me. No longer do I have a sanitized version of Jesus: he looks scruffier, seasoned, crows’ feet from squinting in the sun, and the scars of a workman from stone chips or wood chips hitting him in the face and arms--and rough, work worn hands. And scars from being beaten and left for dead. Maybe his nose had been broken-there’s a picture. A living, breathing wounded healer.
Fourth, what was it like for Jesus to be rescued by a Samaritan, especially after watching two Jews pass on the “other side”? Jesus’ practice would have been to increase the length of a trip by walking around Samaria between Galilee and Jerusalem. Was this experience with this good Samaritan the reason he was in Samaria when he talked to the woman at the well? Is this the man he thought of when the Canaanite woman asked if she and her daughter could have the crumbs from under the table and receive healing? Did this Samaritan who saw a neighbor instead of a Jew teach Jesus to see every person as his neighbor as someone worthy to receive the good news?
Fifth, what was it like to lift this living, breathing and beaten man onto a pack animal? I have often thought of the people who took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it and laid it in the tomb--in haste before the sunset. This man, this Samaritan ministered to Jesus’ living body in the same way Mary and Joseph had when he was a child. Checking to see where he was injured, soothing the wounds, gently bandaging, lifting him up, offering food and water, wiping moisture from his brow, and assuring him that he would get better. It brings tears to my eyes to think of it. It touches my soul in a way I can’t explain. What would have happened if Jesus had died on that road?
And, I think about Jesus’ statement that when you do it for the least of these you have done it for me. The Samaritan saw a wounded man--no one special except this Jew was his neighbor because he was the person in front of him at that particular time. Who is our neighbor? We give of our time and money when we see a need. Maybe it is only the time to be fully present to the person who is with us at this second. Maybe we need to stay and nurse them through the night. We only need two loves in our lives: for God, and for the person in front of us at any particular time.