This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. It was preached in character, as an imaginary innkeeper on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho (the J-J Highway of the title). The gospel text was the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37.
My name is Josiah. I run an inn not far from the Jerusalem-Jericho Highway. Now, of course, by “highway” I mean “death trap.” This road is about eighteen miles long, and it is dangerous. It’s a narrow road through the desert. It has some nasty inclines, and sharp curves, and it’s very common for bandits to camp out along the road, ready to rob somebody or worse. My inn is kind of like the halfway point along the road. I do a pretty good lunch business here, for folks who need a break along the way. And I have a few rooms just in case of, well…in case you get too wiped out from the sun, or too spooked out by the bandits, or whatever. I’ll give you a safe place for a night.
Well, one day I was in the dining room shortly before lunch, wiping down the tables, and a priest came in. As he drank a mug of wine, he told me that a mile up from here, there was a man lying at the side of the road, half dead. We both agreed that the bandits had probably gotten him. “What did you do?” I asked the priest. “Nothing,” he said, looking a little sheepish. “I just passed by and came here.” “Ah,” I said, “Well, you can’t be too careful. Could have been a trap or an ambush.” He nodded.
Not five minutes after the priest left, someone else came in. This was a Levite, you know, one of those guys who works at the temple but isn’t a priest? To tell the truth, I think those guys actually run the temple. Well, anyway, he told me the same story. A man lying at the side of the road, about a mile away, half-dead. I asked him what he did when he saw the man. “Nothing,” he said. “I just passed by and came here.” “Well,” I said, “You’re in good company. A priest just came through her a few minutes ago, and he didn’t do anything either.” The Levite seemed a little relieved to hear that.
When he left, I started laughing, because I started to wonder if I was in the middle of a joke. You see, there are a lot of jokes around here that start like this: A priest, a Levite, and an ordinary Jew walk into a bar. The priest and the Levite always say or do something dumb. And then the ordinary Jew, well, he’s always the hero of these little stories. The ones who win the day. These stories are our little way of sticking it to the leaders. So I started thinking, “Well, the priest and the Levite already came through. I bet my next customer will be the ordinary Jew, the hero. And I’ll bet that he’ll be carrying that beat-up guy on his own horse. That would make this day perfect.”
Well, about fifteen minutes later, I see a horse riding up, with an injured man on its back, and there’s a man walking beside it. Oh my goodness! It’s my ordinary Jew, bringing the injured man here! What a day! But as he approached, something was off about this ordinary Jew. His clothes weren’t quite right. His beard wasn’t trimmed right. This was no ordinary Jew. This was – a Samaritan. And he was coming here. To my inn. I couldn’t believe it. Jews like us hate Samaritans. And they hate us. My wife told me I should make a sign saying “Samaritans not welcome here,” but I never got around to it. I told her, “Those half-breed savages probably can’t read anyway.”
Anyway, this Samaritan walked in, carrying the injured man, and gently laid him on a bench. He approached me, and said, “I will need a room for this man. How much?” I told him the rate, the Samaritan rate, I might add, which was a lot more than the regular rate. I figured he’d get angry and leave. But he didn’t. He reached into his purse, and produced the coins. Then he picked the man up and went upstairs to the room. He only left the room around supper time to come down and buy some food to take to the man.
The next day, the Samaritan came down to see me. He told me, “I must be on my way, but the man upstairs is still very hurt.” He pulled out two denarii, which is a pretty decent amount of money, gave it to me, and said, “Take care of him. I will be coming back this way soon. When I do, I will repay you whatever more you spend on him.” I was stunned. Samaritans don’t act like this. To be honest, I figured it was a band of Samaritans that had beaten the guy up in the first place.
So anyway, it’s now been a week since all that happened. The guy who got beaten up is still upstairs in the room. He’s getting stronger, but really, really slowly. My wife and I have been taking care of him. We’ve been feeding him from our kitchen. And we’ve also changed his bandages daily, and bought some ointment and medicines for him. He still spends most of his time asleep, and when I’ve been with him, I haven’t heard him say anything beyond a mumble. Even after a week, I still don’t know his name. I don’t know where he’s from, where he was going. To be honest, I’m not even sure if he’s Jewish or not. But somehow I find I don’t care. Because I’m finding that doing this is not about him, but about me. I may not be learning who he is, but I’m learning who I am. And right now, I’m someone who caring for someone in need. And I’m doing it precisely because I was given what I need to do it. That Samaritan gave me two denarii, along with a promise to repay anything else I spend. It’s my job to take care of this man, and I have everything I need to do it.
And the funny thing is, this has brought my wife and me closer to God in the process. We’ve been talking about it, and we’ve realized that God has given us things, too. And a lot more than a few coins! And just like the Samaritan, God promised to provide everything we need. I always thought that meant that God would give us what we needed for ourselves. Now I’m understanding that it also means that God will give us whatever we need to do the job God gives us. And like the Samaritan, part of what God gave us was a promise. A promise to continue to provide. I have no proof that the Samaritan is coming back this way. He might just leave us with the bill. I have to trust him. And we have no proof that God is going to continue to bless us with what we need. We have to trust God.
Maybe that’s what having this inn here on the Jerusalem-Jericho Highway is all about. Maybe my wife and I were called here by God to take care of people along the way. Maybe God wants us to be here and offer hospitality to people traveling through this dangerous land. To all people, maybe not just good old ordinary Jews. Maybe we can make a difference to people, to all kinds of people, just by being here, just by doing our jobs. Maybe that’s what it’s all about, not about figuring out who the other person is, but about figuring out who we are. And maybe my wife and me, maybe we’re the people who take care of folks on the highway. I can think of worse jobs.
Well, back to work. Happy travels to you all.