So often when people think of this very familiar parable, people focus on the Good Samaritan. Of course he stopped to help, we tell ourselves, and so would I. However, this parable is not a nice little story about helping someone who has been hurt. In fact, this parable is full of lessons, many of them hard – and completely relevant to today. To help us all think about this story in a new light, and therefore to engage with its lessons in new ways, today’s sermon will be a bit different. Rather than talking about the parable, I have written a first person narrative, told from the perspective of the innkeeper, who took charge of the man who was beaten after the Samaritan had rescued him. This conversation picks up where Jesus’ story stops. It is a conversation between the innkeeper and the man who had been beaten along one of the most dangerous roads in the world, then and now, the Jericho road.
While the herbs steeped to make tea, I looked around for more bandages. The man’s wounds had taken a long time to clean. He had obviously been lying in the ditch for a while before he was brought here. The wounds were filthy and I am surprised they haven’t become inflamed. I imagine if he wasn’t rescued when he was, the man would have died.
I wonder what his name is. That Samaritan didn’t know. He just found him lying there, another victim of the Jericho road. Why I ever decided to open an inn along this road is beyond me. I have seen more people beaten or even killed on this awful road. But, this is the first time someone has ever been brought to me to care for and I couldn’t possibly turn him away. The two denarii the Samaritan gave me may not be enough though. As I gathered up the tea, the bandages, and the balm, I sighed. Why, I thought again, did I open an inn along this horrible road?
I walked into the man’s sleeping room and for the first time since he had been dropped off yesterday, I saw him awake. He looked tired and more than a little confused.
“Good morning my friend,” I said to him as I set the tea alongside his mat.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Where am I? What happened?”
“Stay still, you’re badly hurt. I’ve been caring for you. You are safe here, I promise.”
The man looked at me as I unrolled the fresh bandages and dipped them in the balm. I could see some of his tension begin to ease.
“Who are you?” he asked again, this time more curious than fearful.
“I am the keeper of this inn. We’re not far from the road to Jericho. You were robbed and beaten by some of the thugs who prowl along that road. You really should not have been traveling alone. You’re lucky someone found you.” As I said this to him, I tried to hand him the tea, but he was too weak to hold it on his own. I put my hand gently behind his head and held the cup for him while he drank. He looked so grateful as he swallowed the warm and soothing liquid. Good, I thought, he feels safe here.
He nodded his thanks to me. “I know I should not be traveling alone,” he said quietly, “especially along this road. But I had no other choice. I can’t find work in Jerusalem.”
“Most of the people I see along this road are traveling for that reason,” I said. I continued to change his bandages while I talked with him. “This may be a bit painful,” I warned him as I removed the bandage along the worst of his wounds. I saw his eyes grow wide as he took in how badly hurt he was. I need to keep him calm, I thought to myself.
“I hear there is good work in Jericho, once you are healed and strong, you can continue along your way.” I finished changing his bandage in silence and waited until he seemed calmer and more comfortable.
He looked at me and smiled. A true smile, a smile from God, my mother would have said. “Thank you,” he said. “You are so kind to have brought me here. I wish I could pay you. Maybe when I am stronger, I can help at the inn and repay you that way.”
“I didn’t bring you here,” I said to him. “A Samaritan man did. He put you on the back of his animal to get you here. And he paid me, you owe me nothing,” I assured him.
The man looked confused. “I don’t understand,” he said. “A Samaritan brought me here? Did he rob me and then drop me at your doorstep?” The man started to get red in the face. I would have thought he was getting sick if I didn’t already know what he was going to say. “They are all like that, those traitors,” he continued. “They have no respect for their ancestors. No respect for God. They are good-for-nothing half-breeds.”
It was nothing I hadn’t heard before. The way people talk about Samaritans, especially my people, well I’m used to it. In fact, I might have said the same thing a few years ago, I thought to myself shamefully. I might have not even opened my door when I saw a Samaritan standing there. Nope, this is nothing new, I continued to think to myself. The hate the Samaritans face, simply for being who they are, is profound.
“The Samaritan wasn’t the person who robbed you,” I told the man. He scoffed, clearly not believing me.
“He told me, as he was traveling down the road he saw several people pass right by you. He thinks one was a Levite. Another a priest even. I don’t know, maybe they thought you were dead. But, more likely, they knew if they stopped to help it would be too dangerous. I have seen robbers along this road lie in wait, hoping to catch someone off guard when they are helping someone else. No, it wasn’t the Samaritan who robbed you. He was the only one willing to help, even though it put him at great risk.” I looked at him while I said all of this. I didn’t expect to get through to him. The hatred people have for Samaritans runs deep.
“Listen, my friend,” I went on, “I once thought the same way about the Samaritans. I was taught they are evil, people who don’t believe in God, who don’t follow the laws, people who sell out their own. But, I have seen a lot of people along this road, and a lot of violence. My inn has been robbed. But I have also seen a lot of good. People helping others, sharing their food, their water. I figured out it is not how they look that determines how they act. It has nothing to do with where they come from, nothing to do with who their ancestors are. How they understand God, it has nothing to do with any of that.”
“They violate the law!” he shouted before wincing and laying back in pain.
“Which law? The law of the people in power? The laws that keep us apart? Yep, maybe they do. But I follow the law of God. The laws of God that were taught by our prophets and teachers. They taught us to love our neighbors. That is the greatest law. And if the laws people make up don’t follow that, then I don’t give them much weight.” I watched the man’s face while I talked to him. I couldn’t tell if he was listening. Maybe he thinks I am a traitor too. He closed his eyes. Typical, I thought, that’s what most people do. Pretend not to notice, or not to hear, so they don’t have to have their mind changed. I walked out of the room.
Later that evening I returned with some food. The man had slept for several hours, but his wounds were starting to heal and his bandages were still clean. When I walked in, the man nodded at me. Good, I thought, he is going to accept my help despite what happened earlier today.
“I brought you some food, you need to eat.” I placed the try next to his mat and sat alongside him. We ate together in silence for awhile.
Very quietly, he started to talk, “There was a woman who would come to my village when I was a boy,” the man said. “She would come to get water from our well. She had a kind face. I once went up to her, asking her if she would give me a ladle of water. She smiled and gave me several, right from her own pail. But, when my father saw me, he came over and grabbed me. He slapped the woman so hard she fell down. He took me back to our home and told me that she was a Samaritan woman, and taught me that all Samaritans were evil and dirty. He said I might be diseased because I drank from her pail.”
I nodded as he told his story. It was so familiar it could have been me telling it. As a child I was kept away from the Samaritans too and told never to get close to them because they were dangerous and unclean.
“I was told God would punish me if I got too close to a Samaritan,” I told the man. “What we are told has children, well, it sticks with us,” I said.
We finished our meal together in silence. As I was getting ready to leave, I looked at the man again.
“Who knows,” I wondered aloud, “Maybe it was the son of that woman by the well who rescued you from the Jericho road. Maybe she told her son about the little boy from the village who she shared a drink with. Maybe she taught him that loving our neighbors is the most important of the laws. No matter who our neighbors are.”
The man looked at me for a really long time.
“Maybe,” he said before closing his eyes again.
I smiled as I walked out of the room. It’s a start, I said to myself.