Get off your ass and help!

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30).

The setting for Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was Wadi Qelt or the road that runs parallel to it. The wadi is a deep ravine that starts near Jerusalem and runs fifteen miles eastward through the Judean Desert to Jericho—a 3400 foot drop. Most of the time the ravine is a dry, rocky riverbed. But if there is a downpour in Jerusalem during the winter, Wadi Qelt without warning can become a torrent of water.

Israel, Wadi Kelt, -71

A hiker heads down Wadi Qelt on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Such flooding shaped the valley that was the most accessible route through the Judean desert in Jesus’ time. Walking it even today you feel the wild isolation. It’s not hard to imagine bandits hiding in surrounding caves.

Along Wadi Qelt Jesus set the parable of a man who was robbed and left for dead (Luke 10:25-37). The priest and Levite who passed by may have had compassion, but they could not risk becoming ritually unclean by making contact with a dead body. After all, they had important roles in the faith community!

Jesus blasts such compulsive religion that turns a blind eye to suffering–and he makes the hero of the parable a Samaritan whom many devout Jews would have abhorred.

After Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE, the Assyrians populated the region with foreigners who mixed culturally and spiritually with the remaining Jews. Many in the longer-surviving southern nation of Judah despised what they considered a mongrel religion and culture that emerged in Samaria. Samaritans did not even come to Jerusalem to worship, but had their own holy mountain (John 4:20)! It was a Samaritan who used his own donkey to carry the crime victim to an inn.

Israel, Wadi Kelt, young man on donkey going from St George to Jericho-12

With Jericho visible in the Jordan valley ahead, a Palestinian lets his donkey navigate the narrow path and cliff edges of Wadi Qelt.

Jesus spoke this parable to devout spiritual leaders from Jerusalem, especially to a lawyer (religious teacher) who wanted to “justify himself.” Spiritual smugness was not popular with the teacher from Galilee. Doctrine and theology matter, but in the end risky deeds of compassion are what impress Jesus.


© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************
_EPI9254.tifFor info on two upcoming tours, click on these links:
From Nazareth to Rome: Holy Land, Empire and Global Mission, with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 3-15, 2014

Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

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Jonah’s bare bottom and God’s love for the enemy

Picture 630

Bas-relief of Jonah being thrown to the fish.  From a fourth-century Christian sarcophagus at Pio Cristiano Museum, Rome.

So there is Jonah–and all you can see of him is a bare rear end as three pagan sailors feed him to a big fish! I doubt that the artist at Rome who carved this into a fourth-century Christian sarcophagus thought the image was funny, but it makes me laugh. The fish, though, is a monster of the deep, not the friendly beluga of children’s books.

How did it happen that some Christians today read the book of Jonah and argue whether or not a fish could swallow a man and have him live three days in its belly? As if the point of the book is to test whether we can believe five impossible things before breakfast! No, the point of Jonah is that God cares about enemies, even enemies as nasty as the Assyrians!

Jonah’s birthplace near Nazareth

Recently I navigated a small rental car through labyrinthian streets to the crest of a hill in the Arab town of Mash’had, just north of Nazareth. Wanted to see Gath-Hepher, hometown of Jonah (2 Kings 14:25). Eventually given directions in English by a Palestinian man who once played football for the Nebraska Cornhuskers (!), I came to the spot:

Tel Gath-hepher (Jonah's hometown)

Tel Gath-Hepher, hometown of Jonah, with outskirts of Nazareth in the background. The tel is several acres in size.

Gath-Hepher today is a tel, a mound made from the ruins of towns destroyed and rebuilt at the same spot many times over centuries. This tel has not been excavated, so there is not a lot to see. But I was delighted to be at the hometown of a man called by God to speak grace to the enemy. Nineveh (in modern Iraq) was capital of the Assyrian empire, the superpower that destroyed Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE.

Assyria was notorious across the ancient world for cruelty in war. No wonder Jonah got onto a ship in the opposite direction! Don’t I want to run from enemies personal or national? Or better yet, see their downfall? To be sure, God gave Jonah a message for Nineveh about impending doom (Jon. 3:4). But God’s purpose was to induce repentance and save the city. God was redeeming enemies, not blessing imperialism.

Laughing our way to serious insight

There are so many entertaining turns in the Jonah narrative that Hebrew storytellers must have had their listeners in stitches. The story ends with the absurd scene of Jonah wallowing in self-pity when Nineveh actually repents and is saved. Pouting because enemies of Israel had been spared, and because a worm “ordained” by God (Jon. 4:7, KJV) had destroyed his shade, Jonah wants to die! Here’s how the fourth-century artist portrayed Jonah:

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 There’s that sea monster again–regurgitating the hapless prophet onto dry land, presumably ready to snarf him down again if he turns disobedient. One leg is still in the monster’s mouth! We ignore God’s determination to redeem the enemy at our own peril.
© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************
 I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.

Welcome to the Peace Pilgrim blog!

cropped-img_49031.jpgThank you for stopping by. Take a moment to study the scene above. The background is a mural portraying main street of sixth-century Jerusalem. The foreground is busy with a scrum of modern pilgrims. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to step into that ancient street and learn about Jerusalem of 1500 years ago?

In fact, the mural is on a wall today in Old Jerusalem that stands at the end of a stretch of the actual sixth-century street. I took the picture below with my back to the mural. Now you see pavement stones and columns that once lined the Cardo Maximus (main north-south street) of Byzantine Jerusalem.Israel, Jerusalem, Cardo Maximo

I invite you to step into the world of the Bible and the early church by following this blog. I will not spam you! Once or more a month, photos will appear with brief commentary on a site or object related to biblical or church history. A few insights about the subject of the picture will follow, along with a few devotional ruminations.

The blog name “peace pilgrim” reflects my desire to travel, learn and worship with particular focus on matters of peacemaking, liberation, and mission. The Bible (like our world today) often is troubling and complex. Lofty ideas of caring for vulnerable people get mixed in with accounts of conquest and violence. Radical devotion to God stands alongside accounts of greed and sin.

This wide spectrum of human experience makes the Bible a marvelous frame of reference for spiritual, ethical and vocational reflection. I love faith stories from the past and opportunity to visit places where heroes or villains of the biblical narrative played on the stage of history.

With all its messiness, the Bible portrays a long trajectory from Creation and Fall to New Creation in Jesus Christ. God is calling a people to live into God’s future of healing and hope. I want to place every posting of this blog somewhere on that long trajectory. To adapt a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of salvation history is long, but it bends toward God’s shalom.

I look forward to traveling this way with you. Please pass on the link to anyone you know who might be interested.

Nelson Kraybill

I invite you to enter your email address in the designated box at the edge of this webpage (if you have not already subscribed), and click Follow. You’ll get a notice every three weeks when I put up a new blog post.