He never did enjoy that steep, uphill climb from Jericho back to Jerusalem. But sometimes a man just has make the journey and attend to his affairs. It wasn’t really a choice for anyone who valued wealth and status. So he had spent a couple of days down in Jericho, doing what had to be done, and now it was time to make the journey back. He would make an early start, it was going to be hot today, and besides, he had overheard a Samaritan merchant in the inn talking about moving on to Jerusalem tomorrow, and he didn’t want to be stuck anywhere near him! The man was everything he most despised: a mongrel Jew who would claim to be an heir of Abraham despite his mixed race, a despiser of the true Temple (the Samaritans had their own centre of worship), an offender against all that was most holy, against all that gave his own life, as a priest, meaning and purpose. He shuddered, realising that he hated the Samaritans even more than the Romans.
And so he set off, pondering why God allowed both the Romans and the Samaritans to continue in existence. Surely it was time for the Messiah to come? And if He delayed, was that because Israel was falling short of keeping every syllable of the law?
He had been going for three or four hours when he saw what looked like a heap of rags lying by the side of the road. As he drew closer, he realised that it was a man, badly beaten, with torn clothes and crusted blood. Not a pretty sight. Despite the heat, he drew his cloak around himself tightly, a reflexive gesture of self-protection. The bandits must be active around here, he thought to himself. The Romans did patrol the road (yes, they were definitely not as bad as the Samaritans), but in those steep and rocky cliffs were a labyrinth of caves where those who knew their way could escape pursuit, and where Roman armour was a disadvantage. Momentarily he wondered if he should help the traveller, but then he shook his head, disappointed in himself for ever considering such a silly, sentimental idea. There were robbers around, this was not a place where it was safe to linger. And there was always the possibility that the man was not hurt at all, but merely faking it as a bait to lure other travellers, and went they bent down to assist him he would leap up and grab them while other robbers swarmed out from their hiding place to attack them. Definitely this wasn’t a safe place. Besides, and this was another thought, if the man was a genuine victim, he might be dead, and touching a dead body was a source of ritual uncleanness. Much better, much safer, to hurry on and pretend he’d never seen him.
He did not know that he had failed the test. He did not know that love was the fulfilment of the law. He did not know that the despised Samaritan, coming along later, would do everything he had failed to do, and more. He did not know that it was the Samaritan, and not himself, a priest of Israel, who would be commended by God himself. He returned to his barren piety, his pettifogging rules, and never guessed that even then the longed for Messiah, Saviour of Jew and Gentile alike, was walking in their midst, the glory of God in human flesh.