Scripture Luke 10:25-37
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
"On one occasion an
expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what
must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Possible Intro Song ( by Kieth Green)
My eyes are dry, my faith is old
Oh what can be done for an old
heart like mine
People of God
My name is not known - you need not know it.
As Jesus told it, most who heard my story assumed I was a Jew. They were probably right. For the rest, I am unknown. I could be anybody. I could be you.
You wonder why I walk as a cripple, with a stick under my right shoulder for support, let me tell you my story.
A few years ago, I was headed for Jericho. My brother lived there. He had invited me over to share a few days with him, so I set out from Jerusalem right after noon, plenty of time to make it to Jericho.
There's something you need to understand about that road to Jericho, something I knew, but I always assumed that it would happen to somebody else, not myself.
The road that descends from Jerusalem to Jericho is dangerous. Its 25 kilometers of dusty desert road. You can see for long stretches on it. You can see who's walking ahead of you and who is walking behind. Its hot, very hot. And every once and a while it has small man sized ditches at the side of the road. You can't see what's in them, or what might jump out. That is where the robbers hide out.
"But that will probably happened to somebody else," I thought. I didn't have anything with me that looked valuable, besides I was only walking. In my world, if you have money and status, you ride a donkey.
I wasn't that far from Jerusalem when three men suddenly jumped out of the ditches and confronted me, demanding all I had. I made a mistake, I protested my poverty and resisted their confrontation. The next few seconds were a flurry that I did not remember till days later. One took a club to my head, I tried to protect myself but my arms melted under the weight of the club. The other beat my chest and leg, the third had a knife...
All I remember of the fight was the distinct taste of blood in my mouth and then everything turned black.
I remember fading in and out of consciousness a few times. Maybe it was noises of passers by that awoke me, I don't know. But each time my eyes managed to open, I was more shocked by what I saw.
The first time I awoke, I heard a bell in the distance. I was face down in a dark potage of blood and dust, a feast prepared for flies and ants. Pain was starting to scream throughout my body. My mouth was swollen and half toothless. I could not speak. Every breath sent searing pains across my chest. My right arm and right leg were numb, I could not move them. The sun was beating down on my body. I was left there naked, beside the road to die. Even my sandals were gone. I had nothing left.
The bell kept on coming, a steady, repetitious jingle, a holy jingle, a pharisee's jingle. My heart leaped in the expectation that this man of God would help me! He was coming down from Jerusalem having just finished his two week duty in the temple, pouring oil and wine on God's holy altar. Surely this man dedicated to worship would help me.
I saw from the corner of my eye his donkey stop. He looked at me intently, from a distance, from the other side of the road. I wanted to move, but could not. I was paralyzed with pain. I heard him mumble something about "sinners." Then the jingle on the other side of the road started again. He traveled on. I desperately tried to cry out, but only a whisper came, and only I could here it. My heart raced in fear, anger, confusion. All went black again.
It was only much later that I came to understand why this good pharisee had not helped me. Everything in the practice of his religion stood against me. He was a priest, and the highest objective of a priest was to stay clean, ceremonially clean. He wanted to stay clean so he could perform the ritual of pouring oil and wine on the altar of God in Jerusalem. There were a whole bunch of rules that determined if he remained clean or not.
For example: If he came to within 3 meters of a dead body, he would be defiled. He didn't dare take the chance of coming close enough to see if I was dead or alive. And if he defiled himself, he would have to go through the expensive and, for him, humiliating ritual of becoming clean again by buying a one year old spotless red heifer, and standing before the synagogue council to confess how he became defiled. It would cost him income, he wouldn't be able to officiate in the temple for a time, he wouldn't even be able to wear his priestly clothing!
To him, worshiping God was most important.
I think he really didn't want to come close because he though I was a "sinner." I had no cloths on by which he could tell I was a Israelite. I could not speak so that he could tell who I was by my language. In his eyes, I was possibly a gentile, not his neighbour, and he wasn't going to take a chance. To a priest, to help a sinner was to fight against God. It was said in the temple with priestly eloquence:
"If you do a good turn, know for whom you are doing it and your deeds will not go to waste. Do good to a devout man, and you will receive a reward, if not from him, then certainly from the Most High... Give to a devout man, do not go to the help of a sinner. Do good to a humble man, give nothing to a godless one. Refuse him bread, do not give him any, it might make him stronger than you are. Then you would be repaid evil twice over, for all the good you had done him. For the Most High himself detests sinners, and will repay the wicked with a vengeance. Give to the good man, and do not go to the help of a sinner."
He could not tell if I was a Jew or a gentile. And it certainly would not be wise to take the chance of helping a sinner. It was more important to maintain one's own cleanliness, reputation and pocket book. It took a long time for the bitterness to go away. He could have done so much for me.
The next time I awoke, it was to the shuffle of sandals, this time I noticed it was a Levite. He came closer than the Pharisee. He didn't have to worry so much about cleanliness, he had just finished his duty in the temple. Pouring oil and wine on the altar of God. Off duty, he could go about life without worrying about laws of cleanliness like the priest.
He had no donkey. He could not take me to a place of safety, but at least, he could have given my drying wounds some first aid, and he could have sat with me till somebody came with a mule to carry me home.
He looked at me closely. There was confusion in his eyes. There was helplessness, fear and pity there. He looked around. I don't know what he was thinking. Maybe he thought that the robbers might still be around and if he stayed to help, they might come after him.
Of maybe he was worried that I might not be an Israelite, and he was hoping no one would notice him coming this close to one who might be a gentile. He was torn by his inner feelings, and outward expectations. Conscience battled with law. Emotions against cultural values.
He looked down the road toward Jericho - and there he saw the priest riding his donkey. He realized that his superior had set for him a good example. He slowly stood up, stepped back, this time hoping, I'm sure, the nobody noticed he came so close, and he walked on. Each step he took away from me seemed a step closer to certain death.
A million thoughts and memories started racing through my mind at once. Memories of family and achievements. Memories of priests reciting their eloquent wisdom. Thoughts of friends I'd loved and the many others, Samaritans and gentiles that I'd hated and despised.
And questions, questions about my religion, a religion which now seemed useless if I wasn't wearing the right clothing and couldn't speak the right language. I even started becoming philosophical (or was it?). I started thinking about prejudice, hatred. How hatred wounds not only our enemies, but also our friends. But those thoughts didn't last to long, everything went dark again.
I don't know how long I was dead to the world, but I woke up to somebody pouring a cool soft liquid into the sun baked gashes on my side. I could feel him gently rubbing my wounds, massaging them, working in the oil till the wounds became soft and bled again. There was something different about the touch of this man, his was not the touch of duty, his was the touch of love. His was a touch that knew pain but at the same time knew the cure.
Then he took another skin, and out of it he poured strong sweet dark red wine - onto my wounds. Each drop doubled my pain, but I knew that rich red wine was the only thing that would clean and disinfect the dirt filled slashes on my body. It was as if each wound in my body drank deeply, as if my whole being was being nourished by the sweetness of the wine. Such a painful cleansing I had never known, but I knew it was my only chance for life.
For a second in my mind, I thought I saw the Most High Priest pouring oil and wine on an altar, just like in the temple, except this time the altar was me...
Then he took strips of cloth, from his own cloak, each strip torn carefully, each placed on my wounds with compassion, each carefully tightened to close the wound, as if he himself experience the pain I felt. I became clothed, as he became naked for me.
That's when I first looked at him. He turned me on my side to help me clean my mouth and swollen jaw. What I saw shocked me. I thought I might find a fellow Jew, maybe one who had traveled the same road another time, who had been robbed, who was now paying forward.
What I saw shocked me.
It was a Samaritan! A heretic! One who a good Jew knew had forsaken Israel and God. One who totally perverted true temple worship. One for whom I had often prayed to God that he would never inherit eternal life.
In one moment I hated him, I despised him, I rejected him. Ye my body was so broken, I could do nothing about it. In that same moment, I loved him, I wanted to thank him profusely. Yet I could not utter a single word through my swollen jaw. For the first time I knew I was the victim of my own hatred and prejudice.
I looked into his eyes and there I saw something I had never seen before. It was love and it was pain: a penetrating kind of love that itself could heal my despair, and in those eyes, as if every broken bone, every bruise, every slash were his own, pain filled his eyes. It was a sight I have never seen before, such a terrible mixture of pain and love, I could not bear to see it. I turned my head in hate induced shame.
He should have hated but he loved. He should have finished the job the robbers left undone. But he did not. I never saw hatred in myself until in his eyes I saw true love.
I could not understand, but this I know. He picked me up, he carried me, he carried my sorrows, as a shepherd would carry a wounded lamb. He laid me on his donkey, and as if I were a master, he became to me a servant. He brought me on his own donkey to the refuge where I might find strength to recover. He paid for my stay, he paid for my treatment. He paid the full price for my healing, for it all, yet I could not repay him. I had nothing to give. And a Samaritan could never expect a repayment from a Jew. It was virtually legal for a jew to kill a Samaritan, let alone pay him back a debt. Everything he gave me was a gift.
In many ways he offered his life for me.
Robbers could have come close to do the same thing for him, but he did not seem concerned for that.
And when he brought me to the hotel, the Jews would have assumed right away that he was the one who had broken my leg and arm, and they might well seek revenge on this Samaritan's life or the life of one of his relatives. Hatred finds strange victims. I tried to meet him, to repay him for the way he redeemed me, just give him some appreciation for his wondrous love to me, but when I asked the hotel manager who it was, the only answer I could get was "Your Neighbour."
This I know, I was robbed, bleeding, as good as dead.
A Pharisee came on his donkey, having just poured oil and win on the altar of God, but there was no room on that donkey for a sinner or a brother in need. His worship prevented him. He would not acquaint himself with grief.
A Levite came with his oil and wine, oil and wine for the altar, but he passed my by, to let my wounds harden in the baking sun. The desert was no place for worship.
The he came. How I hated him! But for him, I was an altar and he worshiped there in the desert. He poured out his oil of love to soften my hardened gashes. He poured out that dark red wine to cleanse the wound hatred had bought me. His wine washed me and made me new. Then he carried my broken body, he took up my infirmity, so that I might be healed. And finally, I know his name - he is "My Neighbour."
Picture of Christ who is "Our Neighbour"
oil of love, wine of blood
carried our infirmities
By his wounds we are healed.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.