Sunrise in Samaria
Halfway back to Jerusalem from Jericho, our bus full of American students stopped at a place designed to lure busloads of Americans. The Good Samaritan Inn is not really an inn, it's a gift shop. It sells postcards, T-shirts and souvenirs such as olive-wood crosses hand carved with care by Muslim and Jewish craftsmen.
The gift shop takes its name, of course, from the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). It's a clever name and a clever pretext for locating a gift shop on this ancient roadway.
But, to answer the question frequently asked by American tourists, it is not at the site of the "real" inn from the story. There is no such place. It's not that kind of story.
"Who is my neighbor?" a teacher of the law asks Jesus. And Jesus, in reply, tells this story. It's not exactly a straight answer, but then the teacher of the law wasn't asking the right question. "Who is my neighbor?" he asked, meaning "Who is it that I am required to love?" Jesus' parabolic answer, essentially, is "Just be a neighbor. Real neighbors don't ask questions like that."
The story of the Good Samaritan is a good story, a beautiful and well-crafted story. It is a story that conveys important truths. But it is not a true story. Jesus never claims to be retelling an actual event that actually happened.
It's not the kind of story that anyone could tell as a "true story." There was no journalist present to offer such a report. No one was present to witness all the elements in this story, which is told from the perspective of an omniscient, third-person narrator and not from the perspective of an eyewitness.
Many Christians insist on this same illiterate approach to the first chapter of Genesis. They insist on reading it "literally," by which they mean taking a story that is not a journalistic eyewitness account and pretending that it is one.
This is the same problem an earlier generation of Christians encountered when their "literal" interpretation of Psalm 19 — "the sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end" — required them to reject Galileo and Copernicus.
The late John Paul II's apology to Galileo did not constitute a rejection of Psalm 19 or a dismissal of that passage. It constituted a rejection of the purportedly "literal" interpretation of the Psalm which inflicted on it whole constructs of meaning alien to the text itself.
The sun rises. The sun sets. A certain man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell among thieves. The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.