If roads could talk, the Wadi Qelt would tell some spellbinding tales. Stretching 17 miles between Jericho and Jerusalem, every important character in Biblical history walked or ran over its rocky path. David ran from Jerusalem via the Wadi Qelt after his son Absalom declared himself king (2 Samuel 15:23 – 16:14) and in Psalm 23, he called it the Valley Of The Shadow of Death. King Zedekiah, escaping from Nebuchadnezzar’s troops, fled down the wadi in the dead of night (2 Kings 25:1-6), we know Jesus walked it many times during his life and ministry, and the 10th Roman Legion marched over it on their way to destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Wadi – Arabic For Stream
Floods from the Jerusalem highlands carved the wadi through the Judean desert. Most of the time the chasm was a dry riverbed, and while walking in the gorge was much easier than climbing over the rocky Judean Hills, it was still a treacherous ravine. Torrents of water, descending some 3400 feet from Jerusalem’s height to the Dead Sea’s depth , could overtake travelers in an instant when it rained in Jerusalem. In addition, bandits and wild animals hid among the caves and clefts of the wadi waiting to attack. So nature or man, take your pick…trouble was always just around the bend.
Who Is My Neighbor?
The New Testament brings another Biblical character to the Wadi Qelt…the Good Samaritan. The fact that Jesus used this rough, dangerous road for the setting of His parable would make perfect sense to those listening and the scribe who asked that now famous question: Who Is My Neighbor? Treacherous or not, people, priests, probably even the scribe, traveled this road on a regular basis between Jerusalem and Jericho. The lower city, one of King Herod’s resort cities, was a bustling economic center and flourishing desert oasis, while a visit to Jerusalem was on everyone’s bucket list.
1st Century Way Station
When we travel from the Galilee to Jerusalem on modern Israeli highways, our bus makes a right hand turn at Jericho and then follows the old Wadi Qelt road UP to Jerusalem. On our left, we will pass the site traditionally thought to be the inn Jesus mentions where the injured man was taken to recover. In fact, the earliest archaeological findings at the site date back to the 1st century and the time of the Second Temple. In Jesus’ time, the site had apparently functioned as a way station for travelers, staying that way through several centuries, and one Jesus would have passed by each time He walked that road.
A Priestly Predicament
The characters that Jesus populates His parable with are memorable. A priest is cast in the role of first responder. However, unlike the EMTs and firefighters who heroically populate our nightly newscasts, the priest’s allegiance to the Mosaic Law blinds him to the wounded man’s needs. Possibly if the man’s clothing had not been stolen the Priest could have determined his status in life and made a different decision. But alas, there wasn’t any way to identify the man and this put him in a real predicament!
The law required him to stay 4 cubits away from a dead person or risk defilement, thereby rendering him unable to perform his priestly duties for several days…was this man worthy of such a penalty? His neglect of the injured man for those reasons was in direct contrast to Jesus’ contention that when human needs collide with the law, those needs supersede any legal requirements.
No Right Way To Do The Wrong Thing
The Levite may have been walking a short distance behind the Priest and watched him cross the road to avoid the man…so he felt justified in averting his eyes too. However, no amount of justification makes a wrong action right. The neglect of both these men was just as injurious as the initial attack. “To the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin,” (James 4:17).
Its A Bird, Its A Plane, Its A Samaritan
The scribe and other listeners were most likely stunned, even horrified, to realize that a Samaritan was the hero of the day. Samaritans were the outcasts of that time..Hmmm, I wonder who Jesus would put in the role of hero today. It takes the wildcard, an outcast with no redeeming qualities according to the Jews, to show the world how to do the right thing. He bent down and did the heavy lifting of compassion, he answered the call to “get off your ass and do something!”
Compassion is not academic, there isn’t a “Compassion For Dummies” manual or a check list. Compassion is not abstract, there isn’t a tried and true theory of compassion to weigh each opportunity against. Your neighbor is anyone in need and while you may not lose your salvation by averting your eyes, you will have lost an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this world. Compassion is costly, it’s usually dirty and messy, but it is not afraid. Compassion is a heart reaction and it is love in action.
Today you can hike the Wadi Qelt if you have the time and the stamina, visit the 5th century monastery of St. George that hangs precariously on the wadi canyon walls, or sit at the top with your lunch while taking in the view and think of those who passed this way through time and history.