It Always Happens on the Jericho Road

good sam2 Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. – Leo Buscaglia


I think that you will agree that the following is almost unbelievable, but believe me, it is true. Listen. In 1895, there were only two cars in the whole state of Ohio. That, in itself, is not that surprising, since the automobile was still a relatively new invention and extremely expensive to manufacture. What is surprising is that those two automobiles somehow ended up in a collision with each other! Imagine! An entire state – only two cars – and somehow they managed to run into each other! It seems that dangerous roads are not anything new.

Take, for example, the Jericho Road. That seventeen mile stretch of road that links Jerusalem to Jericho was at one time known to be one of the most dangerous of roads. It was one of the roughest, the rockiest, and the most robber-infested roads in the world. It was a notoriously dark and forbidding seventeen miles, this Jericho Road – this “bloody way” as it was known. Thieves crouched in crevices in the rocks. Travelers were beaten and robbed. This was not a road to be traveled either alone or at night. Those who did so knew that they were taking a huge risk. In our modern experience, the Jericho Road would be much like a dark and threatening alley in the wrong side of town, on the wrong side of the tracks.  We all know roads like the Jericho Road, do we not?

On one level at least, the Jericho Road is a metaphor, a symbol of the suffering and the violence and the oppression in the world.

As a metaphor, the Jericho Road is that room in the nursing home where Aunt Eleanor lives out her life as she struggles with her incurable, degenerative and terminal Alzheimer’s disease.

As a metaphor, the Jericho Road is the bridge, or the doorway, or the alley, or the box where the more than 154,000 veterans must sleep tonight and on any given night because they have no home.

As a metaphor, the Jericho Road is the border conflict between Honduras and El Salvador, or between Israel and Palestine, or between North and South Korea, conflicts in which thousands upon thousands of people have been killed. It is also the border clashes between Mexico and the United States, clashes in which immigration enforcement threatens to further divide us as a nation.

You see, the Jericho Road is any place where there is violence. It is any place where there is oppression. It is any place where there is suffering. It is any place where people are robbed – robbed of their dignity; robbed of their love; robbed of their food, shelter and clothing; robbed of their value as human beings; and robbed of their life itself.

It is an uncomfortable truth that the Jericho Road is always with us because anger, poverty, hopelessness, ancient hatreds, oppression, violence, and death are always with us and they raise their ugly heads on the Jericho Road. In a 1967 speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke these challenging and moving words: “One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructure.”  

Now the story of the Jericho Road is one of the most memorable narratives in all of literature. Of course, we do not know this recognizable tale as the story of the Jericho Road, but more familiarly as the Parable of the Good Samaritan – a story that asks the timeless question: Who is my neighbor?

There once was a man who was walking down a road – the Jericho Road. . .

This classic account begins with its ageless and enduring truths about how we ought to live our lives. The story of the Jericho Road calls us to be caring, compassionate human beings in the face of need on any of life’s Jericho roads.

Recently, I read of a priest who was riding a subway train one wintry day in Chicago. On this particular day, he noticed that an old woman shuffled into the train wearing only ragged clothes to protect her from the bitter and blustery Chicago winter wind. Her white, cracked, and bony hands clutched a worn shawl that she tightly wrapped around her. The priest watched her with both wonder and with pity.  At the next stop, an energetic young man strode confidently onto the subway train. His warm, high-fashion clothes offered a stark contrast to the old woman from the last stop. As he made his way to his seat, his eyes lingered for just a brief moment on the old woman. Three stops later, as the train slowed, he glided by her to the door and departed the train. On the woman’s lap lay his brown leather gloves. The priest observed, “I don’t know if he was a Christian or not. But I do know this: He saw her need and responded with compassion – while I just sat there. It never occurred to me to give her my gloves. That young man showed compassion in a way I’ll never forget”

We cannot buy compassion like that. It is a capacity that one either has or does not have. The story of the Jericho Road calls us to be caring, compassionate human beings in the face of need. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote these words: “Love a neighbor. Be a neighbor, and let us not complicate things by arguing about the specifics. You know what it means to do love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of it, but remember that knowing the right answers does not change a thing. If you want the world to look different next time you go outside, do some love.”

The story of the Jericho Road is one that appeals to our potential capacity to be compassionate human beings and to take the time to heed with understanding and concern another person’s need as they are hurting on any of life’s Jericho roads.

There once was a man who was walking down a road – the Jericho Road. . .

So begins this timeless story. There are many ways of understanding this ageless tale. I have given you but one way in this blog today.  Just as the Samaritan on the Jericho Road demonstrated love and compassion toward a man who was beaten and left for dead, so we should show similar concern and kindness toward other people, even those whom we consider unlovable. Such deeds should be in our DNA. When we have truly learned the lessons of the story of the Jericho Road, then the real results will happen each and every day of our own lives as we attempt to “go and do likewise” wherever we may be, on whatever “Jericho Road” we may find ourselves. For, you know, it always happens on the Jericho Road.

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