Saturday, June 16, 2012
The Lonely Road
Well, hello. Thanks for allowing me to speak to you in my final hours. I want to do something useful with my life before I face the Roman cross. No, this speech is not going to get mercy for me, but it will make dying a little bit easier for me. I want to tell you all how I got here. My friend and I are robbers. Merchants don't like us, because they lose money. Citizens don't like us, because, when merchants lose money or goods, then either goods become hard or impossible to find or prices go up, or both. Soldiers don't like us because Rome sends their pay (either gold or salt) by the hands of merchants! So, as you can imagine, there is not much leniency for us when we finally get caught. I hear that, in your country, a man sentenced to death may live another fifteen years or so after a trial that takes four years to complete after he is arrested! Ha! I wish! We were caught just last week! --and under the most unusual circumstances. You see, we are experienced, seasoned veterans of this devious business. We know where the Roman sentries are posted, and we always make sure that we are either close enough to kill them or far enough away to get away before they can get the rest of the force on our trail. We knew what happens to guys like us who don't take these precautions. The Romans do not crucify people in the backwoods but alongside the main roads. But we got caught anyway. How, you ask? This is our story. There was this guy who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho, and we could see that he was carrying some valuables and was alone. Stupid guy, should have traveled with a caravan, but I guess he was new to the area, in a hurry, or over-confident. We soon fixed that. His goods were ours, his body was battered, and his life was soon to ebb away. We went off the road to assess our goods, letting him cry out in agony, knowing that he didn’t have but maybe a day, and not expecting any more travelers at that time of day. Ah, but we were wrong. Over the hill came a priest of God. He was on his way to Jerusalem to do sacrifices, but he knew the Torah, so we figured that we should probably be afraid, because, with medical help, this guy might be able to testify against us. So we decided to wait for a minute to see what way the priest would take him. We knew that we could catch up at any time, just so long as we hid the loot well, which we, of course, knew how to do. Then, something amazing happened. Well, not the kind of good amazing. Well, it was good for us, but, still... Well, here’s what happened. The priest kept right on walking. Never stopped even once. As a matter of fact, he crossed to the other side of the road as he passed, so that the man would not know that he had ever been there. Now, we were shocked. Our priests are not like your priests. They don’t just stand behind some piece of wood they call an altar and say some things that may have something to do with the Bible. No, our priests slay sheep, goats, and bulls every day for people to keep God from killing them for their sins. Blood and heavy lifting are daily rote for these guys. So why would he let one of his fellow chosen Israelites-- whom he has told us was made in the image of God --die in the pool of his own blood? (Yes, I know: we put him there, so who are we to talk? But, still... it was shocking, to say the least.) So, wanting to be happy, and yet a bit angry at the priest for being such a hypocrite, we decided to accept our good fortune and go on with life. But then another guy came over the hill. This was a Levite. Those guys are assistants to the priests in Jerusalem. No, no, not like the altar boys you have here (we don’t have those). These guys do everything from catching animals that try to get away, to collecting offerings for the upkeep of the Temple, to playing music and singing, to washing the priestly garments (I told you about the blood), to sweeping the floors, and anything else the priests need them to do. “So, what do the priests do?” Glad you asked! They pray with people and sacrifice their animals all day long. Israel has 3 million people right now. That’s a lot of sacrifices and circumcisions! (Oh, yeah, they do those, too.) Anyway, so, here came one of those guys. So, we got ready to chase him down, too. Wouldn’t be hard. He would be carrying a half-dead man, and we would be carrying the clubs we beat him with. Easy prey. But he didn’t stop, either. In fact, just like the priest before him, he passed on the other side, so that the man never saw him or heard him coming or going. It wasn’t like he could have seen the priest--they were separated by enough time. He just didn’t care. He had no way of knowing that we were there, and he himself might have been carrying a sword (we were willing to take the risk, but it was definitely possible). We were shocked. The two people whom Moses had said were supposed to care for the most important things in people’s life (their relationship with the God who made them) didn’t care about this guy’s plight at all. Not that we wanted them to care, mind you. We were glad to get away with this, but still... We pay (well, our parents paid) Temple tax and tithes for this??!! It seemed just a little bit unreal. Well, there really aren’t any other people on the holy chain, so we figured we were scott-free. But then something else happened that shocked us. Over the hill came this Samaritan guy. These guys wear very different clothing from us Jews. Very easy to tell when one of them is coming, so we can get out of the way. Oh, they’re not dangerous or anything, it’s just that we Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans, kind of like the Hutus and Tutsies, only no guns and no national sovereignty. Not really like the Black Panthers and KKK, because we didn’t need to have meetings to establish our agenda. Everyone here knows the history, but, since you are from another time, I will tell you what happened so long ago: Our nation, Israel, was divided into two kingdoms after Solomon’s death (long story, for another time--well, another person to tell you, too, because I’m going to be on a Roman cross in an hour, and there will be no more story-telling from this mouth!), the northern ten tribes retaining the name Israel, and the southern two tribes renaming themselves after the larger one Judah (Judah always takes care of Benjamin, just like he promised his father Israel back in the day--you have to find out from another time, and another person: it’s just another long story). Israel got in more trouble with God than Judah did at first, and so God had the Assyrians come down and take over our northern land. They took our people who lived there and moved them to other countries, and put people from those countries in our land. Those people didn’t know about our God, and so they just worshipped their own gods. But our God had just kicked us out for that (in fact, had kicked other people out for that in front of us, too) so He sent lions among them to kill some of them and make them aware that their gods were on His special land. The new people of the land sent word back to the king of Assyria that he couldn’t expect taxes from them in a few years if he let the God of the land kill them all. (Well, they put it a different way, but that’s the way he heard it.) So he sent some of our priests back into the land to teach the people the ways of our God. So the people there served our God and their gods, which is a no-no, but God didn’t want to kill them off completely, so He just stopped sending in the lions. Well, some of our people who were left, and some of our people who were able to return with the priests (and some of the priests) married into the families of the new people. This was another no-no, mixing religions through marriage. God was fine with us marrying people from other nations and ethnic backgrounds, just so long as we led them to worship Him and they were not leading us to worship their gods (and sacrifice our children to them, whether through the fire to Molech or through prostitution to a whole host of other gods; yeah, He had a reason for not letting us worship them besides being the only real God, anyway). This created a new kind of ethnic group. Heredity was no longer as defined, religion was not longer as defined, so, in honor (or in infamy) of (rebellious)Israel’s former capitol city, Samaria, their descendants were called Samaritans. Now, the people of the southern kingdom were called Jews (from Judah), but not all of them were from that tribe. When Assyria attacked the northern kingdom, people from every tribe fled into Judah to save their lives. For some, it worked, for others, it didn’t, because he did make an incursion before Hezekiah’s prayers sent him packing. So all of the children of Israel became known by the name of one tribe. So now we are all called Jews, and we have no dealing with the Samaritans, because our parents had no dealings with their parents, and so their parents hated our parents and taught their children to hate us, and our parents did the same thing. But this guy ignored all of that. He saw a human being in need, got off his donkey, picked him up, put some salve on his wounds, put him on his donkey, and walked beside it into town to that inn keeper who is known for nursing people back to health. (I only know this because the guy was able to identify us when the Romans asked him.) Now, why didn’t we kill the Samaritan? Truth be told, we were in shock. You know, Jesus talked about loving your enemies, but we had never seen it done. We were waiting for him to stab him, dump him off the donkey, something to reflect what he and we had been taught to do all our lives: hate the other guy. But he didn’t. And the sight of his compassion distracted us for so long, we never saw them coming. A sentry had spied us spying on this guy and figured that the loot we had was too great to be our own. The soldiers didn’t actually care about the guy who had been robbed, but their commander wanted the towns people to know that he wasn’t just crucifying a couple of Jews for nothing. (Pontius Pilate got in trouble for that with Caesar a couple of times.) You know, thinking back, we should have figured that something was up. Here we are, guys who grew up knowing the Law of God, hearing it every Shabbat at synagogue from the priests and scribes, going to the Temple several times a year, knowing that we should not be out and about killing people so that we can take their money. We knew better. We were just as guilty as that priest and that Levite. They, too, will answer to God for their crimes, but we will answer for ours. That’s why this is my last sentence in this chair. The soldiers have come. Never forget: God judges everybody, not just the ones we think deserve it.