The innkeeper, too? 

Published 5:11 pm Friday, July 30, 2021

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By Charles Qualls

What is the most dangerous journey you’ve ever taken? One of them for us might be a flight Elizabeth and I were on, on Feb. 12, 1998. We had gone to South America on a mission trip with a group from our church in Greensboro. Leaving to fly back to the U.S. was a different story. We noticed that the 727 we were on taxied out onto the runway. Then, they took a tram and manually pushed our plane backward.

At that point, I heard the jet engines fire back up. We screamed down the runway. Then just as the plane went airborne the least little bit, it was like they stood the jet up on its tail. We were pinned back in our seats as it felt like we launched straight up into space.

We asked a businessman in our row what had just happened. He said, “I make this flight occasionally. The runway in Temuco is actually too short for a commercial jet of this size. So they back us up to the far edge of the pavement, get up as much speed as they can and then lift the nose of the plane. If they don’t, the runway ends and there’s a grove of tall trees we’d crash into. Behind that is a mountain.” Then, he went right back to sipping his orange juice as if nothing had happened.

In Luke 10:25-37, we come upon a parable that our Bibles commonly refer to as, “The Good Samaritan.” Jesus artfully constructed this story for teaching purposes. It’s important that we keep this in mind today. The road in Jesus’ story, though, is a real place. It was about 20 miles from Jerusalem to Jericho in real life, and about a 400-foot descent in elevation.

If you left Jerusalem and traveled that direction, my understanding is that your climate quite literally changed along the way. You would go down so far that you changed from a semi-arid place to a desert climate. It was hot most of the year. You were exposed to the sun, and if something happened to you, you could be in trouble fast. What I’m saying is, this was a relatively dangerous trip. You had the downhill reality of it. You also had whatever or whomever was lurking behind the bushes. Bandits were known to watch for lone travelers. It would’ve been rare to take this trip alone.

One teacher says, “The worst thing we can do is take the priest, the Levite, and knock them around because they didn’t stop. One of the explicit things in the Law was that you did not touch someone who was dead or bloody. You were immediately rendered ritually impure. Therefore, ineligible to discharge your duty for all of the people who were somewhere nearby counting on you.” We have to take that into account before we decide how bad the characters really were.

Then a Samaritan dropped by in Jesus’ parable. He stopped and cared for the man’s wounds. Then he told the innkeeper he would be back soon, and would settle the balance when he returned. Oh yeah. The innkeeper, too? How many of us would have taken a partial payment and trusted that he’d be good for the rest of the bill, leaving us with the trouble of caring for the man while he’s gone?

The innkeeper almost always escapes our view here, and he was a “neighbor” as well in this parable. I can’t take my gaze off the innkeeper now that I’ve noticed him or her. He didn’t just hand them the key to a room and then collect his price.

He was called to rise above the expectations for him, despite the real life tensions that might have made it understandable for him to say, “Don’t bring that beat-up, bloody person in here and tell me you’re going to dump him for me to deal with.” Life can leave us hoping that even an unlikely neighbor just might come along and be a better neighbor than we’ve been in our worst moments, or as good a neighbor as we’ve been in our best ones.

Who is my neighbor? This parable tells me that this is my question to deal with, and yours too, every day of our lives. But it also gives me the hope that there are neighbors along the way who reflect the God of our Creation, just when we need them most.