Luke 10:25-37 (a modern version)
A lawyer stood up to put Jesus on the spot. “Teacher,” he asked, “what do I have to do to have eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
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, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You are absolutely right,” Jesus replied. “Do that and you will live.”
But the lawyer wanted to impress others, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was mugged by robbers. They stripped him naked, beat him up and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed him by on the other side of the road. A Temple administrator who came to the place and saw him, also passed him by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, of all people, was traveling and as he came where the man was; and when he saw him, he felt sorry for him. He went to him and gave him first aid, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
“The next day he gave the innkeeper two days” rent. “Look after him,” he said. “When I come back, I’ll make up the difference for any extra costs you may have.”
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who got mugged by the robbers?”
The lawyer replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do that sort of thing yourself.”
They never learn, do they? So many travelers get robbed and mugged along this road that everyone should know not to travel it alone. It’s a perfect road for us robbers. It twists and turns; it’s narrow and steep in many places. People can’t get away easily. There are a lot of places for me to hide, waiting for the next nitwit to come along.
Here comes one now. If he’s dumb enough to travel alone, he deserves what I’m gonna give him. Look at him! Upstanding fellow, isn’t he? Well, dressed, well groomed. A real pillar of the community, I’ll bet – yeah, respected member of synagogue, pays his taxes, reads the Scriptures on holy days, kids are just perfect – I’ve seen men like him before. Pretty wife, no doubt – too bad she’s not with him today!
He’s loaded, that’s for sure.
This is the sort of man who made me the way I am, you know. So what I’m going to do to him is fair. Oh, no one sat me down one day and said, look, young man, what you need to do is be a cutthroat. That decision was mine, I admit that. When I was seven my father was killed in an accident, and people like this guy – he’s looking around cautiously now, but it’s too late – people like this guy didn’t give my family any help. We were poor, and we were told in ways subtle and blunt that everything that happened to us was our own fault.
One of the well-to-do men of our town told us that God had simply structured society in a certain way. Those who were righteous and moral were blessed by God with money, property, and standing in the community. Of course, you could tell someone was righteous by the heft of his wallet or the size of his house. Question: Why is this man prosperous? Because he is righteous and moral. Second question: How do you know he is righteous and moral? Because he is prosperous.
So I learned that we were poor because we were sinners. You could tell we were sinners because we were poor. After a while, I believed it. Others sure did; they made certain assumptions about us. Strange men would come into town as they traveled and hit the tavern. They’d ask where a guy could find a little “companionship” around here. And the innkeeper would name a woman or three, including my mom. But my mother never rented herself to men. Never! She made her living doing menial labor – hauling water, cutting wood, feeding livestock. Never did she prostitute herself! There were a few prostitutes in the town, sad women with no future. My mother sometimes took pity on them because she lived a hard life, too. They were the only other persons we shared our meager food with. When the self-proclaimed righteous men of the town saw my mom they would cross the street to avoid passing near her..
The first man I mugged was one of the strangers who propositioned my mother. After my mom sent him packing, I followed. I was fifteen and furious. I’d had all I was going to take. The man went down an alley and I followed with hate in my heart. Before he knew what had happened, I clobbered him over the head with a thick stake. He collapsed. I hit him hard across the face and kicked him in the gut. I took his wallet. Then I knelt and put my knee on his throat. I told him, “If you ever bother my mother again, I’ll kill you!”
The money came in handy. I didn’t tell my mother where I got it and she didn’t ask. Afterward, one mugging followed another, until here I am on the Jerusalem road, with my mother long dead. Why do I keep doing what I’m doing? Because I don’t know how to do anything else. And because I’ll never forgive men like this guy coming down the road for what they put my mother through. I’m no longer mad, but I will continue to get even. All those righteous people think I was born a sinner, so a sinner is what they’ll get – and they’ll get it good and hard.
They say there is a fellow going around now who has a new teaching. Jesus is his name. I hear Jesus says to do good to those who do evil to you. (Ha!) They say he heals the sick and shares bread with outcasts and sinners, even prostitutes and tax collectors. (I never mug tax collectors – you know, professional courtesy.) Whoever this Jesus guy is, he’s sure not a righteous man because he rubs elbows with the wrong crowd. Maybe he’s someone like me, from the wrong side of the tracks. The rumor is that his father wasn’t really his father.
“Love your neighbor” is what they say he teaches. I know who my neighbor is. It’s Eleazar here beside me, an expert with a knife. Someone like me, that’s my neighbor. Someone I can trust because they know if they betray me I’ll get even. But this Jesus, from all accounts, would want me to believe that this fat-wallet guy coming down the road is my neighbor, too. No way, no way! I would never mug my neighbor. But this guy is dead meat. Get ready, boys – neighbors – he’s almost here! One, two, three – Get him!
Well, I see the robbers got another one. Beat him to a pulp and stripped him naked. Must be the Adoniah gang. They say that’s their trademark, stripping their victim and beating him half dead. Of course, this poor man’s money is long gone. That would be the first thing they took.
He looks dead. Maybe he’s only half dead. It’s hard to say. What do I do here? If I stop, maybe the muggers will get me. I’m late to Jericho. If I stop, I’ll be even more late. My priestly business takes priority here. I mean, what would become of the order of our religion if all the clergy let themselves be delayed just because someone was in need? It would be chaos! The righteous people have certain expectations, and one of them is that their clergy will take care of clergy business. Anyone can stop and tend to this fellow, and someone will be along in a moment, surely. I have priestly business in Jericho, and only I can do that, not just anyone. So if I stop here, then my work won’t get done and the people will be disappointed and angry.
But if I pass on by, some folks will think I should have stopped. What about that? I know – I’ll claim that our religious Law forbids me to touch a corpse because it would make me religiously unclean. (That man is dead, isn’t he? Yes, he must be.) And one thing a priest must never be is religiously unclean, everyone agrees with that. Of course, not being experts in religious law they won’t know that caring for an abandoned corpse does not make someone unclean, even a priest. So I could bury this fellow – yes, I am quite certain he really is dead – I could cover this fellow without violating religious law at all. But that will just be my little secret. I’ll even cross to the other side of the road to make it more convincing. I must make my meeting.
The meeting is important. The subject is a radical man going around teaching and preaching, Jesus of Nazareth. He’s certainly not a good Jew. He socializes with sinners and outcasts and even eats with them. It is very upsetting. We have tried to convince Jesus not to befriend sinners and be more reserved like his cousin was, John the Baptist. You know what he said? “John the Baptist didn’t eat or drink with the wrong crowd, and you said he was in league with the devil. Now I, Jesus, eat and drink with them, and you accuse me of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of thieves and other sinners. Get a grip!”
Speaking of the Law, surely Jesus knows that our accusation is a veiled threat. I mean, Jesus doesn’t follow the law, but he sure does know the Scriptures forward and backward. Too bad they don’t mean anything to him. I am sure he caught the reference to Deuteronomy 21, verse 18, that requires gluttons and drunkards to be stoned to death.
We’ve put Jesus on notice to be more selective in acknowledging someone as his neighbor or face the consequences. No thieves and prostitutes and other sinners allowed!
I can’t understand why anyone would listen to Jesus, but thousands do. Personally, I like the guy, but his religious ideas are wacky. They are a threat to the system.
I’ll bet if Jesus was walking with me he’d stop and take care of this poor fellow here. That’s exactly the problem. He just won’t tend to business. He’s always being distracted by do-goodism. Heal this fellow, comfort that widow, feed that child, all without distinction. Love your neighbor, he says, and he’s right, of course. That’s in the law, no arguing about it. Too bad Jesus doesn’t understand who his neighbors really are.
I’ve got to get out of this place if it’s the last thing I ever do. And if I stay in this country much longer, it will be the last thing I ever do. I hate Jews as much as they hate us Samaritans. I’ve had a couple of close calls already. I really think if I stay longer, my luck will run out. Someone will kill me. And he will get a medal for it! No one will be interested in the murder but the Romans. Come to think of it, they won’t be interested, either. My sons will have to avenge me.
Let me just get through Jericho! Then I’m up the Jordan River and I’m home free.
Is that a dead man? Yes, another victim of the criminals along this road. More evidence of Jewish depravity, that they let such crime go on. No, he’s not dead; he just moved. They’ve stripped him bare. It’s not obvious he’s Jewish with his clothes gone, since his robe would identify his tribe. Oh, he’s Jewish for sure; what else would he be?
Man, they sure worked him over! Poor guy. I hope somebody helps him out. Not me, no sir. I’m not stopping for this Jewish scum.
Maybe I should turn back and just give him a drink of water. I wish I hadn't gone so far past him. It’s uphill to go back. It’s getting late. I need to keep going. But I’ll run back and give him a drink of water, then go on. That won’t take long.
Ah, the water is making him come around. Maybe a sip of wine will help now that he is more alert. One of his eyes is so swollen he can’t see with it, but he sees me with the other eye. Okay, I’ll let him take a good look at me. When he sees I am Samaritan he’ll push me away. I bet he’d literally rather die than accept aid from a Samaritan. Uh, uh, see there? His jaw has dropped. He knows what I am. Okay, Jew, I’m outta here. I’m just as disgusted as you are. What was I thinking?
“Thank you,” he said to me. I turned away from my donkey and faced him again. “You're welcome,” I said.
“You are Samaritan, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He said, “Sometimes I saw others go by, even a priest, but no one stopped but you.” I nodded. Then he said the most surprising thing: “God bless you for stopping.” I would have bet my last shekel I would never hear that from a Jew!
He moaned in pain. He was cut and badly banged up. “Shall I bandage your wounds?” I asked.
“You would do this for me, Samaritan?” he asked rather incredulously.
I could hardly believe it myself. “Yes,” I said.
“Don’t you need to move on?” he asked. “Samaria is still a long way off.”
I said, “Do you want to be bandaged or not?”
I could see his turmoil. Samaritans and Jews had been mortal enemies for generations. He was more unclean from me touching him than from being beaten and stripped naked. But the pain overcame his objections. “Yes, please,” he finally said, and he added, “I am called Jacob.”
“I am Samuel,” I answered. I poured oil on his cuts and bruises and wrapped them in clean cloth. I offered him a robe to wear. “You will look like a Samaritan for awhile,” I acknowledged, “so if you refuse to wear it, I’ll understand.” But he took the robe and I helped him put it on.
“Can you walk?” I asked him. We tried to stand him up but he couldn’t. “Onto the donkey,” I ordered. He made a weak attempt at humor: “A Jew on a Samaritan donkey. The first person we meet will say you have a stupid jackass with you, but your donkey is nice.” I laughed. Then he laughed. Then we both laughed long and loud, although he had to stop because the thieves had kicked his ribs so hard. But it was funny – a Samaritan man on the Jerusalem road leading a donkey with a battered Jewish man riding it. No playwright could ever have dreamed it up.
We did get some strange stares along the road but there were no incidents. By and by the road leveled out. There was an inn ahead, so I stopped and rented a room for the both of us. I bought supper for him and he seemed better. But that night his pain got worse and he got a fever. He was in and out of consciousness and mostly incoherent. I stayed up most of the night placing cloths soaked with cool water on his forehead and changing the bandages on his wounds.
The next morning I was exhausted. I had a real dilemma. I really did need to get on. I wished I had asked him where his family lived. I went to the innkeeper and told him what had happened. He nodded his head; I was not the first to tell him such a story. I told him, “My friend is named Jacob. He is a neighbor of mine. Here is two day’s rent for the room. I’ll be back by that time, and I’ll pay whatever extra it costs you.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
When I returned Jacob was much better. The innkeeper refused additional payment, telling me, “A neighbor of yours is a neighbor of mine.” We all parted company and I returned home.
My brother was indignant when I told him the tale. “I can’t believe you showed a Jew mercy!” he exclaimed. “They’re outside our circle!”
I reminded my brother that the Jews and we Samaritans had a common religious heritage and both used the first five books of the Scriptures. Leviticus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“Oh,” he retorted, ‘so now a Jew lying in a ditch is my neighbor!”
I said, “Maybe anyone who needs mercy is our neighbor. You should try it sometime.”