“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.
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.
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 ******************************************* For 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
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