I’ve noticed a very particular trait about the hero in the story of the Good Samaritan. Maybe you’ve seen this trait in him before, but it is new to me.
It helps that I recently read a couple of commentaries providing additional details for the main scene of the story, the road running from Jerusalem to Jericho. The earliest audiences for the story would have learned these details by traveling the road or hearing others complain about the road. But we cannot know these ancient details without the help of experts.
It’s a steep trip downhill going northeast from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem is about 2,500 feet above sea level, while Jericho is 846 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest cities in the world. The 18-mile journey required a descent of more than 3,300 feet! For you hikers, the closest local equivalent I could find would be taking the Boulevard Trail down from Mount LeConte. Hiking guides list this trail as “difficult.”
And at least local hikers don’t have to deal routinely with bandits. Like many of our local mountain trails, the “road” from Jerusalem to Jericho was a narrow, winding, rock-strewn path with switchbacks and overhangs galore. In Jesus’ day, much of the path consisted of soft, flaky limestone that eroded easily. Thieves loved to hide along this road, attacking shaky-footed travelers to take what they wanted.
There is one strange thing about all the characters in this story. They all traveled alone. People usually traveled in caravans for safety. For whatever reason, the wounded man, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan were taking big chances traveling alone. Everyone in this story was at least a little afraid.
This fact doesn’t justify the actions of the priest and the Levite, but at least we can learn they weren’t just being haughty. There’s a good chance they hustled away in fear. What had happened to this half-dead man in the ditch could very well happen to them, too, they must have thought.
To stop and help the wounded man, the Samaritan required a very special trait—courage. Not only did he have to fear the bandits himself, he had to fear being accused of banditry. Remember, Samaritans were considered unrighteous half-breeds by the Jews. Had a band of Jews found the Samaritan hovering over the man in the ditch, the situation might have quickly turned ugly. But all the same, he stopped.
He took on the time-consuming and laborious task of cleaning and binding wounds. He slowed his journey considerably in dangerous territory as he burdened his beast with the injured man. There’s no doubt he had courage.
Christians, we need courage, too.
We need courage to go to the places that frighten us. We need courage to be among the people we distrust or dislike. We need courage to act when action is needed, not waiting in some vague hope that someone else will come along and deal with the situation.
You may fear Muslims. We as Christians still need to be among Muslims. You may distrust poor people, particularly if they seem manipulative. We still need to be among poor people, helping them and witnessing to Christ’s love.
You may be tired of hearing about people with lifestyles very different from ours. You may even be pretty sure their lifestyles are sinful. But we still need to be among people of different lifestyles and ways of thinking, trusting that God’s word and the Holy Spirit will reveal—and heal—sin in all its forms.
Jesus calls us to go among all our neighbors offering mercy and grace. Mercy and grace are the healing wine and oil given to the world by Jesus Christ.
The featured image is a 1771 book illustration of the story of the Good Samaritan.