Waiting For God’s Help

Daily Devotional for Wednesday, October 21, 2020 from Rev. Eric Douglass

In the next several meditations, we will look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). One author has noted that, when Jesus told this parable, it likely took an hour! What we have in our text is only the bare-bones outline of that story. These meditations are designed to breathe life back into that outline, by expanding it into a longer story. The next three meditations will tell this story, with each adding to the whole meaning of the parable. Each meditation will open with the explanation of some background element. Today, we begin with background of ‘bandits’ in the ancient world.

Bandits were everywhere on the roads between the cities in the ancient world. So, for that matter, were pirates, who patrolled the sea lanes between the cities on the Mediterranean. Bandits and pirates could operate alone, but travelers were often armed to fight them off. Indeed, while the Essenes (the religious group that penned the Dead Sea Scrolls) were forbidden from carrying material goods on their journeys, they were permitted a knife to keep robbers at bay. For this reason, bandits and pirates often traveled as large groups. One group of bandits, led by Bulla Felix, operated in Italy with over 600 members! Cities would often pay these groups money for the safe passage of their citizens. Indeed, because of the high rate of pirate attacks, the industry of ‘insurance policies’ first arose in the ancient world.

Our parable centers on a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The text doesn’t say anything else about the man or his business. But as soon as it puts him on this road—which was well known for its bandits—we expect trouble. Especially as he is traveling alone, and so is without the protection of others.

Nevertheless, it is a shock when he sees the bandits stepping out from the shadow of the boulder, and rising up from the ditch. He turns to run. But the trap has been well laid: they are behind him as well. He puts his hands up in surrender. Only the bandits are not interested in surrender.

The tallest of the bandits, dressed in the rags of poverty, steps forward: “Give it all!”

The traveler digs into his pockets, producing the small amout of money he has…a few denarii…a few day’s worth of wages. “Take it. It’s all I have.”

The bandit spits. “Search him.”

Of course the bandits find more, but only a little. He had held onto a short chain with his wife’s engraving. The tallest of the bandits gives a short laugh: “So, you thought to hide this.” After examining it, and seeing its copper composition, he tosses it to the ground: “Worthless!”

Still, the bandit’s men scramble for it.

“All this work, and we only get a few denarii.” His voice takes on a mocking tone as he spreads his arms out wide: “How am I to feed all my children?”

The traveler drops to his knees: “Please…it’s all I have…let me go, I beg you.”

The tall bandit smirks to his companions, and adds: “Oh, I’ll let you go…but only after…”

He snaps his fingers, and without warning, the entire group attacks. Fists, clubs, and knives. The attack lasts less than five minutes. There is blood everywhere and the traveler is lying quite still. They may not get much, but destroying this sniveling little man makes up for it. The tall one wipes his sweaty hand across his forehead and down his shirt. Fist fighting was hard work, but this was how you built your reputation…and with that reputation would come more followers, a larger band, and more wealth.

The traveler woke a few minutes later. His body hurt everywhere, but especially his legs…cut and bloodied. He was going nowhere. Lifting his head, he surveyed his surroundings: no one in sight. Fortunately, it was not the time for the wild dogs to hunt. He was probably safe until sundown. That was all the time he had left. The image of his wife flashed across his eyes. He pulled his hands forward and cried.

Then he reached down, deep inside his soul, and prayed to God for help. For now, that was the only comfort he could find. He remembered the trials of Job and the threats to David’s life. Each had turned to God, and God had answered. Now it was his turn. He wondered what kind of story he would write. “Save me, Lord.”

Time moves forward slowly on the hot roads of Galilee, and the desert sun begins to extract it toll. Dehydrated and without water, his thirst rises sharply. “Save me and I will give you half of all that I make.” He scans the horizon. No one. He wonders what his wife is doing, and how she will worry at his failure to appear. “God, where are you! Don’t you care!” Despair.

The Lord of the universe bends his ear to the traveler. Looking around a nearby city, he finds a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan, and sets an impulse in their hearts to start a journey to Jerusalem.

Our Lord:
We feel so alone.
In times of suffering
we wonder where you are,
and fear that you have hidden
your presence and your help from us.
Yet the Lord moves in mysterious ways.
You refuse to abandon us in the ditch,
even the ditch of our own making.
You place on others the mantle
of your work in this world,
of your work toward us.
We quietly wait for your salvation.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, though which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.