High on the Jericho Road
It’s a story that disturbs me each time I think about it.
In Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, the author describes the tragic day of May 10, 1996, when over a dozen climbers died during a blizzard in the upper reaches of Mt. Everest.
On the Tibetan route near the summit of Mt. Everest, two Japanese climbers found an Indian climber in the snow, frostbitten and barely alive. The Japanese team continued climbing, not wanting to risk their summit attempt. Despite the winds and adverse conditions, the Japanese make it to the summit, but on their descent found the Indian dead. When asked why they didn’t stop and render aid, one said, “We didn’t know him.”
So they reached their goal but lost a chance to possibly save the life of a climber.
What a sad story. Too focused on their goal to stop and help. Not willing to help a stranger because “we didn’t know him.”
Thinking of this, I find myself on the Jericho Road and the story we call the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s probably the most famous of Jesus’ stories. The parable of the Good Samaritan.
As my country has faced some of the toughest racial conflicts of my life, I’ve found myself drawn over and over to this story that has endured over the centuries and affected different cultures of the world.
I want to share a multi-part simple Bible study on the Good Samaritan.
Being sixty-four years old, I’ve seen enough of life to apply this story to my life and culture. Being this age also gives me a long view and insight into this story and how it relates to my life as an American in 2020.
To best understand the Good Samaritan, we must remember it is a parable. Parables are often called “earthly stories told with a heavenly meaning.” Jesus was the master of using powerful stories to drive home a truth.
Any story that has endured two thousand years is definitely an example of a powerful parable.
I’ve often wondered: was this story true? Was there really a good Samaritan that set a high bar of compassion for readers of every century?
We don’t know. The thing that matters is that Jesus had it ready to share when a fellow Jew, a lawyer, asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?”
What a telling question. One that we’re all confronted with daily: and who is my neighbor? Don’t miss those pronouns. Who? My?
Jesus answers the Jewish lawyer’s question with the story we call the Good Samaritan.
Before we explore further, a little background will be helpful.
The setting of the story on a road is integral. The listeners of that day understood what I’m sharing here: The Jerusalem to Jericho Road was a winding mountainous eighteen-mile trek. The parable begins with the statement, “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho . . . ” (Luke 10)
Going to Jericho entailed a long descent of nearly thirty-five hundred feet. Jerusalem was over 1000 feet above sea level while Jericho was 2200 feet below. From my backpacking days, I remember that that much change in elevation is a tough journey. Hikers know that climbing pushes the lungs while descending is difficult on the joints and legs.
But the elevation wasn’t what made this a trip to be avoided. This rough mountainous road was nicknamed the “Way of Blood.” Its desolate outcroppings were a haven for gangs of bandits and robbers.
If possible, no one traveled this road alone. The Road to Jericho was not a journey to take lightly.
As Jesus begins his parable, the key character, who is at the beginning and end of the parable, is simply called “a Jewish man.”
Jesus, a Jew, was telling this story to a crowd of Jews. His listening disciples were Jews. This was a Jewish story, although the hero will turn out to surprisingly be non-Jewish.
A quick look at what brought about this story:
In Luke 10:25, a Jewish law expert, sometimes called a lawyer, tests Jesus with a penetrating question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
What a question! I’ve always admired how Jesus loved to answer a question with his own question. He does it here: “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
This Jewish expert knows his scripture. He answers, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I imagine a slight smile on Jesus’ face. “Right! Do this and you will live!”
But the Jewish lawyer, like many scholars who love to talk, had to get in the last word:
“ The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
And who is my neighbor?
That’s all of the opening Jesus needed. He replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
This lone Jewish traveler had the bad luck or bad timing to be attacked by bandits. Not one but a group of them.
He was attacked.
He was beaten.
He was stripped of his clothes and left naked.
They left him half-dead.
The bandits took everything he had. His money and possessions. Probably even his traveling papers and any ID he had.
He was left for dead. No clothes. No money. No papers even telling who he was.
Then Jesus tells of two men who pass by. I don’t mean to skip lightly over the two travelers that Jesus introduces us to. The first is a Jewish priest. The second is a Jewish expert in the law, oftentimes identified as a Levite.
A priest and a Levite. These two Jews had similar encounters:
They saw the beaten man.
The crossed over the road to avoid him.
They left him as they found him.
I won’t go into the various ideas of why these two religious men chose not to be involved. Maybe they were too busy or too clean. Maybe they lacked that most wonderful of human emotions: empathy for a hurting man.
Maybe like the Japanese hikers on Everest, they had somewhere to be.
Or maybe they just said, “I don’t know him.”
Regardless, the two travelers moved on, and out of our story.
Then Jesus lowered the boom on the listening crowd. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” (Luke 10:35 New Living Translation)
Several words stick out.
A despised Samaritan.
We’ll learn in the next lesson about the fractured relationship between the Jews and their despised Samaritan cousins.
One more word: the despised Samaritan . . . saw the beaten traveler . . . and felt compassion for him.
Compassion. Empathy. Concern. Love.
Great words that always lift humans up.
In the next study, we’ll continue the story with how the Samaritan traveler shows his compassion with action. We’ll learn why Jesus made him the hero of this story.