Eliazer’s Inn’s surprise guest was on everyone’s lips.
A week ago he had booked in with another visitor from further north, after being mugged in the Badlands between Jericho and Jerusalem. Even unflappable Rabbi Reuben’s curiosity had drawn to join the crowd in Eliazer’s courtyard.
Conversational buzz subsided beneath the overhead vines, as this mystery guest leaned back on a cushion and rested his forearm on his knee as he began his story.
He tried a smile; but his rasping, hesitant voice and regular sips from his cup corroded any attempt to disguise his ordeal.
“My name is Ishaboth, from near the Salt Sea. Ten days ago I went with my friends to Jerusalem for the feast. We had three wonderful days at the Temple and seeing the sights. When I found that they had left without me I decided to follow them. I knew it was risky, but I thought I could catch them.
“Along the road, about the fifth hour I saw men coming towards me, smiling. I smiled back; happy to see some friendly faces. But then something scraped behind me.
"I looked around. More men; but with twisted smiles. Then I saw the same twisted smiles in front of me.
“They started snarling: ‘So, you’re braver than the Roman soldiers, hey? Out here all by yourself? You’re not a priest, are you! Best not to push priests around. You must be Nimrod, the great hunter. Ha! Nimrod! Let’s see how tough you are.’
“They started poking me harder and harder. One hit me in the stomach with a club, and another one grabbed me around the neck from behind and down I went. They grabbed my money, then they started punching me and kicking me.
“I must have passed out. When I came to, they had gone. I was aching all over, and it was so hot. I just kept drifting asleep, awake, asleep, awake...
“I heard footsteps, and saw a priest approaching - surely God had sent him! He was safe by himself, for not even thugs will attack a holy man. But he ignored me! I guess that touching me he would bar him from his duties. Was he running late? Who knows.”
Ishaboth paused, lifted the cup to his lips again to swill its contents around his mouth, before swallowing and releasing a sigh.
“Sometime later I heard someone else coming. A Levite. He came closer, but just grunted: “Isn’t that terrible!” And left me to it! If he’d asked me I could have told him all about terrible! I felt like God had abandoned me!
“I just lay there waiting to die then I wished I was dead, for I could hear animals coming closer. It had to be the thugs, coming back to finish me off. It was all too much.
“The next thing I knew, somebody was holding me by the neck. Then I felt water splash my face and I opened my eyes to see the last person I would ever want to see A Samaritan!!”
A hush captured the wide-eyed crowd as Ishaboth sipped from his cup again.
“I didn’t want him to touch me, but he was so careful, even though he knew I’m Jewish. He cradled my neck and put a cup of water to my mouth.
“I tried not to gulp it down but I felt so dry and my throat was so sore. I spluttered and coughed so much I spilled most of it. But somehow he had enough for me to drink and to spill as he washed the blood and the dirt away from my cuts and bruises.
"Then he started wrapping me in bandages. When he had finished I must have looked like a mummy ready for burial Ha! Just like those thugs would have wanted for me!”
As warm laughter rippled around the courtyard, Ishaboth smiled towards Eliazer: “He brought me here on his donkey, for he had heard of your hospitality. His kindness and your hospitality show me that God was with me when I did not know it!”
Reaching for Ishaboth’s cup, Rabbi Reuben refilled it and handed it back. Ishaboth thanked him: “I will always treasure this cup, as a gift from my Samaritan friend.”
Rabbi Reuben gasped as his stomach suddenly tightened. Until a strange warmth began rising from within, to relax his throat and to recolour his ashen face.
For Rabbi Reuben had touched something from Samaria.
And his world had not ended.
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