The Jericho Road
In the big, bare inn at the top of the Jericho Road three travelers were sitting around an open fire, for the night was cold. They were persons of some importance in their time, being rich, and their many followers—servants, guards, horses, and beasts of burden—crowded the alcoves around the courtyard of the khân.
One of the three was a Roman tax-gatherer from Jerusalem; the second was a Persian silk merchant from Ecbatana: the third was a Greek theater director from the rich city of Gerasa, beyond the Jordan. They had often met before at the same khân, for their business frequently called them to traverse this dangerous road. They were always glad of a meeting and a friendly talk over a cup of mulled wine, no religion having yet been discovered to forbid such cheerful and warming fellowship. So they rested and told their stories, as travelers like to do.
"But where is our old companion, the good man from Samaria?" asked the Roman. "He is usually on the road at this season, with his sacks of corn from Dothan and his skins of wine from Jezreel. There is a good market for them in Jerusalem now."
"Perhaps he is waiting," said the Persian, "for the market to rise a little more. He understands his business, that Samaritan. But he is kind, very kind—the blessing of Ahura-Mazda is upon him."
The Greek smiled.
"It is so," he said, "excessively so. He never loses a chance to perform a work of mercy, to bind up the wounded, to pour out money for the distressed. And I never knew a man to have so many chances. I will wager that even now he is picking up some poor wretch on the Jericho Road and taking care of him. That is what delays him. It has become a habit."
At that moment, as if a bell had called him, the Good Samaritan entered. He was dusty and a little out of breath, but he made the Oriental salutations of politeness as usual, and sat down with his friends by the fire.
"Another?" asked the Roman.
"Yes," replied the Samaritan, "another—in truth, several others."
"How many does that make," asked the Greek, "since we first met here?"
The Samaritan threw up his hands.
"I do not know. I have lost the count. Since I began to travel this road, some thirty years ago, it has been the same thing every year, sometimes twice a year. Always robbery, outrage, murder—people lying in their blood by the road-side, women violated, little children cut to pieces. This time it was a poor man of the sect called Nazarenes whom they beat till they thought he was dead. His wife they stabbed to death and two girl children they abused into madness. I and my servants did what we could for them and brought them here for safety."
"Such things ought not to be in the Empire," said the Roman, gravely. "Who is guilty of these offenses against justice and the Roman peace?"
"Always the same tribe," said the Samaritan. "They call it 'taking toll.' They say their religion authorizes it, and after they have done it they wash their hands and say their prayers. But the name of their god must be Satan, and the blood on their souls will not wash out."
"But this tribe must be subdued," said the Roman. "They must be taught and bound to keep the peace."
"Subdued is an easy word," said the Persian; "but in my country there are tigers which cannot be changed into cats. You cannot trust them if they smell blood."
"It is so with this robber tribe," said the Samaritan. "Time and again one army after another has beaten them, and they have cringed and fawned and promised to be good. But when they are forgiven and the army withdraws they break out again to rob and rape, to butcher and burn. True, they let us pass because we are strong and well armed. But for the weak and helpless they hare no mercy but torture and no compassion but the grave. Year after year the same brutality, the same horror! My gorge rises at the bloodiness of the Jericho Road."
"But why," asked the Greek, very softly, "just why do you not go around by some other way? You would escape these sights that trouble you so deeply and cost you so much money in charity. It is none of your affair, after all. What are the Jews to you, except as customers? Why not abandon the Jericho Road?"
The Samaritan looked at him, and then answered, sharply and firmly, if he had often thought of the question and had the answer ready.
"For two reasons. The first is the same that brings you here. We all need that road in our business. It is the shortest and best way to Jerusalem. The second reason is one that perhaps you may not share. To avoid the Jericho Road would not deliver me from its horrors. I should still see them in my heart—the wounded, the outraged, the slaughtered—they would haunt me and cry for help. Are they not of the same flesh and blood as we are? God knows they have cost me enough. But I give it willingly. I only wish I could do more for them."
"You can," said a deep voice close behind the travelers. They looked up in surprise, and saw a man clothed In rough garments of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle round his loins. He had come in quietly and stood leaning on his long staff, gazing sternly into their faces.
"You can do much more, all of you. You must do more if you would meet your duty. You are rich. You have power. Put a strong guard on this pathway of blood and shame. Make this tribe of robbers and murderers afraid, since they understand no other argument. It is even more merciful to prevent cruelty than to heal the wounded. It is even more righteous to protect the helpless than to comfort them in their misery. This ought ye to do, and not to leave the other undone. I charge you in the name of God. Patrol the Jericho Road!"
The four travelers looked at one another with wondering eyes, for the stranger spoke with authority. When they turned around again to question him, he was gone into the night.