"How the Good Samaritan Turned Bad"
A Messianic Short Story about Abuse
This is a new parable, set in New Testament times, drawn from my own imagination five years ago. But it's not really fiction.
Some might vaguely remember a story, stranger than fiction, which surfaced in the Messianic grapevine and abruptly disappeared. The year was 2003.
There was a cry of pain from Messianic believers in Yeshua who were being abused by other Messianic believers, and a call to Messianic leadership to confront the abusers and bring the abuse to a halt. It was a call that went out for the next 5 years, until 2008. The call was noted, filed... and forgotten... by all but 2 or 3 compassionate individuals. During those 5 years, only the abusers did anything concrete in answer to the call. They threatened to sue and otherwise ruin anyone who would "defame" them by exposing the damage they had done.
For that reason, dear reader, you most likely have no idea of the real-life saga which inspired this creative tale.
But never mind -- that story is not unique. Similar abuses involving other believers have occurred, and are occurring, which remain off the radar for everyone except the perpetrators, their targets, a handful of mute bystanders... and the LORD of Hosts.
Therefore, this fictional extension of Yeshua's original parable was written to draw the Body's attention to a trend rather than a particular case. What I witnessed was so compelling, it was not hard to imagine what the Good Samaritan might have faced if he were trying to stop abuses under the prevailing conditions in the Body of Messiah today.
Nevertheless, I do confess that the resemblance to real people and events is not coincidence. In fact, some of the dialog is taken from actual statements by abused and abusers, reprinted here verbatim. Real-life details have illustrative value, and that alone was a good reason for weaving them into this story. The names are withheld to protect the privacy of the victimized, and to prevent legal harassment from the victimizers.
For a year or two, this sequel to the "Good Samaritan parable" was on a blog (it disappeared when "Geocities" was closed in 2009). People I didn't know, survivors of Messianic/Christian abuse in other places and times, wrote to say, "How did you know what I went through?" I expect the reintroduction of this Parable will bring similar responses, because since its debut in 2007, not much has changed in the way we Messianic believers deal with our spiritual-Family abuses.
Those who believe we should not expose such unpleasant realities to public view will take offense. Others (who remember the real story) will lament the fact that I "just can't seem to move on" from the abuses I witnessed that were never dealt with -- unaware that our local Tsavuah continues to add to the list of victims as I write. A few more, who were never able to see past the doctrinal issues, will wonder what all the fuss is about, since the doctrines were denounced and the heretics were disfellowshiped years ago.
As an answer to those critics, I offer a few observations from other believers who are similarly "obsessed" with unchecked abuse in the Body:
The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the 'can't-talk' rule.... If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem.... If noticing problems is labeled disloyalty, lack of submission, divisiveness, and a challenge to authority, then there is only a facade of peace and unity. It is impossible for wounds to be healed, and abuse will one day escalate.
(David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, p. 68-9.)
Rebuilding trust for the victim of spiritual abuse is no easy thing. I don't mean to offend anyone here -- and please don't take this personally -- but Christians who like to spout out facile 'answers' to victims about how they should just learn from the experience, and move on with their lives, really ought to consider sticking a sock in their mouths when that temptation comes over them.
(Ron Henzel, founder of REST Ministries - Recovering from Experiences of Spiritual Tyranny)
Spiritual abuse can take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible-preaching, fundamentalist, conservative Christianity. All that is needed for abuse is a pastor accountable to no one and therefore beyond confrontation.
(Ronald Enroth, Churches That Abuse, p. 189.)
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.... All things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light."
(The apostle Paul, Eph.5:11-13)
An explanatory Note about "Tsavuah", the name given to the abuser in the parable: This is a modern Hebrew word (צבועה) which means "painted over" and also "hypocrite". It is very close to the word for "jackal", צבוע (Tsavoa), a wild predator that roams much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The Israeli species, the Golden Jackal, is related to the wolf and even in modern times will prey on flocks and herds. Interestingly, Israel is currently battling a population explosion of jackals.
The Good Samaritan trudged down the steep road leading from the east side of Jerusalem, keeping to the smooth parts so that his donkey wouldn't lose its footing. It was only the third hour, and the intense dry heat was already rising up from the Jordan Valley. Another one of those draining summer treks that GS had resigned himself to making.
The occasional passerby eyed him suspiciously, and GS was resigned to that too. They were Judeans. His face and clothing proclaimed that his home was in the other direction, far to the north. If he were a Smart Samaritan, he throught wryly, he would be there now, on his hill overlooking Shechem, cooling off - and minding his own business. But chance (or was it God?) and a sense of conscience had sent him in a different direction, on different business.
He knew this road better than most... more than he wanted to. The number of attacks on it had increased since the spring. And for some reason, he always seemed to be the first to find the victims. He had put his merchant business on hold and postponed his homeward trip for the last month, trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious beatings.
He thought back to the first victim he had rescued. It was a Jewish priest, of all people, and that encounter had been a life-changing experience for both the Samaritan and the Jew. But what a strange story the beaten man had told....
For one thing, he claimed that other priests had passed him before GS arrived, but when he called out for help, they pretended not to see or hear. One actually yelled back a rebuke, something about "negative confession", before hurrying over to the other side of the road.
Even more disturbing was his claim that he knew his attacker. It was no ordinary robber of the hills, but a maverick priest by the name of Tsavuah bar Maimon, who lived just off the Jericho Road. Apparently this Tsavuah was regarded as a great servant of God by many Jews. He and the injured man had been entrusted with some of the Temple offerings, part of a priestly team appointed to oversee distribution to the poor. But Tsavuah decided to carry out the project on his own, and then refused to give his team a clear accounting of exactly how the money had been used. When his brother-priest exposed the lack of accounting and appealed to the Sanhedrin to investigate the matter, they briefly spoke with Tsavuah and then ruled that it was "a personal dispute that should be settled privately". Tsavuah's way of "settling it" was to lay an ambush for his opponent on the Jericho Road and beat him almost to death.
The disabled man then went into some strange doctrine taught by Tsavuah, who was telling one and all that his unconventional teaching was the real reason for the "unsubstantiated and blatantly false claims about Temple violations and Sanhedrin inquiries". GS, not being a Jew, couldn't follow the theological arguments. But he doubted that any doctrinal differences could justify the gashes and bruises on his patient.
The weirdest part of the man's story, however, was his claim that Tsavuah had carried out such ambushes before... and with the blessing of other priests. These supporters were convinced that Tsavuah's victims were thugs and idolaters who had attacked him... in spite of the fact that the unarmed "attackers" came out of the confrontation bloodied and paralyzed with terror, while Tsavuah returned claiming severe injury but not even limping.
When GS asked his patient why the victims didn't band together, tell their side to the Sanhedrin, and demand a full investigation of the whole mess, the man just sighed. "It won't help. Nothing to do but move on," he said, and then turned his face to the wall.
That had been the first rescue. Then two weeks later, the Samaritan's business affairs took him back down the Jericho Road, and that's when he stumbled upon two more beating victims - in the same day. Both were (again) priests, left at different places on the road. They told him a tale like the first beating, but with a new twist. Together they had tried to confront Tsavuah face-to-face in the Temple, only to be chased out by the Temple guards, who reprimanded them for "slandering a brother and bringing shame on the priesthood". They were later waylaid by Tsavuah... but this time a few other priests actually came along to help. Two held the victims down while Tsavuah pummelled them, and a third (being a lawyer as well as a priest) read out a statement declaring the mobbing an act of righteous discipline: "We as Tsavuah's elders have advised him that he should use all means at his disposal to attain full compensation for the damage you have caused him, his family and his priestly work...." The declaration ended with an admonition to the prostrate, bleeding man to repent.
While these two casualties were struggling back to health, they spoke haltingly to the Samaritan about earlier victims of Tsavuah's roadside attacks. Not knowing what to make of this tale of serial bullying, GS decided to track down some of them to check out the stories... and if necessary to turn the whole affair over to the Roman authorities. After all, GS was a regular traveler on that road, and it was in his own interest to put an end to the attacks.
He soon found he was opening a big, ugly can of worms.
There was a roomful of individuals willing to talk to him, but none were willing to give their names. To the last man (or woman), they repeated the same thing: "Don't ask me to identify myself. Tsavuah will know it's me and he'll come after me for telling what I know. I don't need to go through that -- again." Whatever they had "gone through", it convinced them that just to identify themselves would invite retaliation. Some had kept silent for years.
One of them told him of abandonment by those who witnessed the abuse: "This has been a very lonely walk we have been on. Very few have had encouragement for us. Most of the Jews disappeared once the trouble started."
The Samaritan had studied Torah; he knew these people should be going to the judges for justice. And he said so.
One of the circle confessed: "I am way too scared to even tell what he's done to me, plus I don't trust anyone to hold him accountable. Too many of the leaders have an interest in letting him go on unchallenged."
But others claimed to have confronted Tsavuah before judges. The results, they said, were the same each time: Tsavuah declared it to be a big misunderstanding, the judges urged the two sides to reconcile, and a few weeks later Tsavuah sent messengers with quiet threats of what would happen if they persisted in "attacking" him.
"If anyone wants to stand up to Tsavuah, he finds a way to shut them up," a scarred Levite tried to explain to GS. "One witness standing alone is not credible, so he works to isolate each one and brand him or her as 'the only one' with a complaint against him."
GS was amazed to find even former friends of Tsavuah among the victims. Said one: "I once supported him, but I now have no respect or trust for Tsavuah professionally, ethically or financially."
Another was more aggressive: "It's totally unfair for anyone to treat those who have helped him as long and as much as we have done, that he would choose to try and destroy us as he did."
This last speaker, a Temple servant, told how Tsavuah had dragged him before a Roman magistrate, demanding a criminal trial and flogging... apparently without taking into account that the Roman justice system required proof of wrongdoing before pronouncing sentence. After questioning Tsavuah and finding the evidence to consist of an old wineskin that had been "stolen" and later returned, the Roman had given him a disgusted look and ordered the accused to be released. Tsavuah then returned to the Temple, announcing that a Roman cohort was on its way to kick in the door of the "criminal" and throw him into prison... and since the Temple servant was never seen in Jerusalem again, most who heard the story assumed he had indeed been tried, found guilty and sent to the Roman galleys for his crime.
GS asked him what had provoked Tsavuah to do this. "I complained about his habit of taking things from the Temple treasury without going through the proper channels," answered the servant simply. "We couldn't keep a clear record, the funds were moving too fast. He was furious with me for my 'betrayal' as he called it. Later, he told everyone I was getting revenge for some doctrinal disagreement. The accusation of theft came a little while after that." Others in the room exchanged looks and nodded.
"I've been in hiding ever since," he went on. "I can't bring myself to have anything to do with the Temple service anymore. I personally feel violated by him and his associates who support him."
"Thanks for meeting with us," said one sad-eyed Jew as he got up to leave, "but for some reason none of it seems to matter anymore. I don't understand the evil dynamic that is going on here at all."
GS was still a bit skeptical about the number of victims at the hands of the same person. Who ever heard of one man being able to cause so much wreckage without being challenged? he wondered. And yet the injuries sustained by each one in that room were not fabricated. He decided to see if it were possible to cross-check their stories.
He approached Jerusalem, determined to ignore any hostility he might encounter in this city that despised Samaritans. Reminding himself of his reason for being there, he gathered the courage to ask the Jewish dignitaries sitting in the gate about the growing number of Jewish priests injured on the Jericho Road.
To his surprise, he found that the gate judges were not skeptical or shocked at his question. They seemed to already be familiar with "the string of incidents" as they put it. But they were unwilling to talk of what was known about the attacker(s). They advised him to take his inquiries to the Temple court itself.
GS was not about to set foot on the Temple Mount. He refused on principle; like all devout Samaritans, he considered the place a seat of false religion. Hadn't God already chosen Mount Gerizim at the time of the holy teacher Moses, by commanding Israel to place His blessings on it? And hadn't their forefather Abraham offered his son on that very same Mount overlooking Shechem? Let no one in Judea sneer at the Samaritans as "idolaters" -- hadn't Jerusalem lost God's favor and been razed to the ground because of the blatant idol worship practiced in their house of prayer?
No way am I going to lend credibility to that worship system by entering its gates, he resolved. Not even to find a reputable judge who could set things right for his Jewish friends. Anyway, the Jews would probably say he had no right to be there. But he had to find out what, if anything, the Temple authorities knew about the abusive priest who worked in its shadow.
GS finally spotted a couple of Judean judges, whose clothing identified them as part of the Pharisee sect. Well, he thought, they're more faithful to the Law than the priestly caste, or so I've heard. They were coming down from the Temple Mount, and he asked to have a word with them. They looked at him warily, but they motioned for him to speak.
The minute they heard the name of Tsavuah, they shook their heads and launched into a passionate warning against his teaching, which seemed mainly to focus on the odd idea that the Messiah would be only a human being -- not worthy of the title "God", and not even pre-existing in heaven with God to give meaning to His "being sent from God." They judged this notion to be dangerous "even for the Samaritans," and GS could see why. But when he turned the conversation to the issue of the beatings on the road attributed to Tsavuah, their eyes glazed over with an unreadable, guarded expression. They brushed past him without replying, continuing the argument with each other: how much of Tsavuah's teaching actually qualified as heresy?
GS stared after them. The words of one victimized Levite (now permanently crippled) echoed in his mind: "The truth has to come into the light... but it can only happen if leaders decide to care. Unfortunately it's too late for me - I was the perfect target. And I let Tsavuah destroy me."
"How did you 'let' him?" GS had asked.
"I tried to be a friend to him. I figured he was just reacting from hurt and fear, and if he had some strong unconditional support, he would quit attacking others. I didn't hold him accountable for his history. I guess that's what gave him a green light to add me to his list of victims."
Something strange and ugly was in the air around the Temple, unseen but sensed... one could almost say "smelled". It reminded GS of an incident in Samaria years ago, when a homeless beggar had died without anyone noticing, until his putrefying body had carried the news through town on the wind. Even so, it was another week before the townspeople took the time to track down the source of the stench. Amazing what people are willing to ignore when they are busy, he mused. Or when they are resentful of something that invades their comfort zones.
GS searched for another Jewish authority who might be willing to talk about the incriminating smell among the priests. The first leader he approached referred him to a second one; that one conferred briefly in undertones with a few colleagues standing behind him, and then turned back to GS:
"Yes, it's important that this abuse problem be investigated, brought out in the open and resolved. But we can't be involved in any way. We've tangled with this priest before over his doctrinal errors, and one confrontation was more than enough. Our decision is unanimous on that."
After more persistence, GS was finally referred to one of the most prominent community elders, who agreed to speak with him privately at his home in the city's affluent quarter.
GS, realizing that the elder was under no obligation to see a Samaritan, thanked him humbly for receiving him. Then he related what he had seen and heard from the Jewish victims and Jerusalem leaders. He concluded: "Look how many lives have been ruined by this associate of yours. How can you judges and elders not speak up?"
The venerable old man looked troubled and stroked his beard. "It's all true... and yes, it has gone on for too long. As leaders we are embarrassed before the Lord about it... Heaven help me, I have to work with some of the priests who are supporting it. But to put a full stop to it would take a great time investment and cause great turmoil in the community. Both would jeopardize our holy work. Who would teach the Law, or judge the people, or care for those in need?"
GS was perplexed at his answer. Isn't that exactly what we're talking about? he wondered. He pressed further. "Will no one among you care for those injured by this man? Do God's ministers have no obligation to people who are stripped, beaten and left half-dead, other than to avoid stepping on them as they pass?"
The elder gazed at him appreciatively for a moment. "It is a question that deserves close attention," he said. "But a leader is not led by God to stop and answer every single call for help. If he tried, he would burn out."
"Fine," argued GS, "but how many priests and judges and leaders can make the same claim about the same call for help?"
"I won't try to answer that," replied the elder firmly. "Only God knows their hearts. But I am aware that some leaders refrained from offering aid to the victims because there were doubts raised about their innocence. And due to the pressure of all the Temple service, there simply wasn't time to hear both sides and sort things out."
GS was fighting a growing despair. "Okay, let me see if I understand this. One priest is claiming that he 'was forced' to beat up - how many is it now? - about 15 of his fellow-priests, all at different times, always in 'self-defense'. And of all those who heard this one priest, not one leader in all Jerusalem could find time to hear the other 15, who are also priests? Not even the Sanhedrin, which must have scores of capable men trained for this sort of thing?"
"Well," observed the elder mildly, not seeming to notice the other's agitation, "there are times when the entire leadership can be stumped over a really complex dispute, and cannot in good conscience take any action at all. God Himself will settle such dilemmas in His own way."
GS thought, Then why did He command His people to appoint judges? but he suppressed it and tried a different approach. "Alright then. What about unconditional compassion -- comforting brothers in pain, just because they are brothers in pain? Is it right to avoid them? Visiting them, just to say: 'We are sorry this happened to you...' doesn't require taking sides in the dispute. Would this not be pleasing to God?"
The old leader pondered. "Yes, I suppose. Still... have you ever considered the risk of showing compassion in such a case? We recognize that one man has launched a series of abusive attacks, some of them in revenge for perceived offenses. Comforting the victims would no doubt be interpreted as condemning the perpetrator - which would make us the next 'offenders' on his hit list. And then who would risk being next after that, by coming to our defense?"
Let me guess: the Good Samaritan? GS stifled that thought too, and sighed. "Please understand me. I am not interested in causing problems. I am interested in ending the shameful silence, the abandonment, the complacency.... and the cycle of attacks. I don't have the authority to stop them, or I would."
His listener sat in thought for another minute. "Tell you what.... I will work behind the scenes, if you will get me some solid documentation for the attacks. But please, don't tell anyone that you spoke to me about this."
GS thanked him for his time, and then took his leave with mixed feelings. Where he had hoped for courageous leadership, born of long service to God, he found only the same reluctance to take a stand, or even to go on record discussing the problem. But for all he knew, maybe a widely respected elder like this could make progress through discretion. Time would tell, he supposed.
Then again, why should he, the outsider, gather "documentation" for attacks that seemed to be common knowledge to the insiders? As a Samaritan, he had already done more than expected - more than some of the Jews liked. And if "being next on the hit list" was a likelihood, how was a lone foreigner better suited to take that risk than a united group of influential Judean leaders?
But being a compassionate man had its down side: GS was unable to pass the buck and wash his hands of the affair. By the time anything was worked out "behind the scenes", there were likely to be more broken bodies, hearts and spirits. He exited the old man's courtyard, haunted by the memory of one victim's pained questions: "How many more years do we have to live this nightmare out? How long is God going to allow Tsavuah to torture us?"
"Years? How long has he been beating people?"
"For the last five years," one victim had volunteered. "No, for ten," someone else had said, "and if you think we've suffered, you should see how he's damaged his wife and kids. The other priests know, and they keep telling her to just submit to him and God will 'bring peace to her heart'.... His own sons have disowned him, just like Korah in the wilderness."
Making his way down a stone street toward one of the city gates, GS passed groups of Jews resting in the shade. Impulsively choosing one group at random, he asked if they had heard about attacks on the Jericho Road being perpetrated by Temple priests.
The men all exchanged quick looks, and three got up silently and left. Of the handful who remained, one said, "Samaritan, you don't know who you're dealing with. Unless you have a lot of clout and can survive character assassination, don't even ask."
"What do you mean? Are you talking about Tsavuah bar Maimon?"
With a nervous look over his shoulder, the man replied in an undertone: "Tsavuah's connections in the Temple have made him very powerful. I'm not sure who can afford to say anything about him."
Another man spoke up (somewhat louder than necessary, GS thought): "Tsavuah is a righteous man! He's helped a lot of Jews with the Temple funds, and he's been slandered relentlessly for it - and for his free thinking too. If anyone has a problem with him," he went on, with a meaningful look at the previous speaker, "there's no call to expose others to their negativity. They should go and make things right with their brother! Or better yet, just leave it alone and move on. And I suggest you do exactly that, stranger."
GS moved on quickly, showing no emotion. Inside, he was creeped out. How could one man with a decade of destructive behavior convince an entire city to simply look past it?
The whole experience validated the prediction he'd heard from one of Tsavuah's bitterest victims: "Even if they knew about the abuses, they wouldn't care. The shepherds are never going to admit there's a wolf in the flock - much less a wolf right next to them in the leadership. It's less embarassing to just shoot our wounded."
"Isn't that a little unfair to stereotype all your leaders that way?"
"Time will tell, won't it? Look, in a place like Judea where the believers are under pressure from the outside, the leaders close ranks and protect one another. It's a matter of honor, you know: 'If the unbelievers see us fighting one another, it will be a desecration of God's name.' Same thing that relatives tell the battered wife: 'Don't shame the family. Just tell everyone you fell down the stairs.' Forget about what Torah says about binding up wounds and all that. A few battered sheep are always expendable to keep up the image of 'unity'...."
Today GS was prodding his donkey back down the Jericho Road, intent on carrying out the only remaining strategy he could think of. He was going to post warning signs.
"Danger! Beware of the Robber-Priests who
use this Road for revenge attacks.
Make every effort to avoid one named Tsavuah bar Maimon.
Find an alternate route if you can."
If he could forewarn travelers, maybe they would arm themselves and the attacks would have to stop. Or maybe the Roman authorities would finally do something once the perpetrator was identified. He had made a set of signs mounted on sturdy wooden posts, which accounted for his donkey's burden.
When he told his recovering victims of his plan, they had been noncommital. One said: "My initial reaction to this is 'too little too late' . My life has been ruined in so many ways - I am emotionally destroyed and terrified." Then another timidly volunteered: "I think if anything, it will bring a lot of scared and hurt people out of the closet - and everyone talking about it may help prevent more tragedy."
GS came around a hairpin turn, and saw a priest toiling down the Road ahead of him. He was alone. GS immediately thought of the potential danger and hurried to catch up with him.
"Hey, I've heard about you," said the priest before GS could introduce himself. "You're the Samaritan that patrols this road, aren't you?"
"Uh, I guess so... if you mean I stop and help people along this Road who have been beaten." GS was surprised that anyone had heard of him. Maybe word had gotten around from travelers at the inn.
"Listen," said the priest, "I've been attacked on this Road before, and I didn't have time to hire a guard for this trip..." He looked GS over. "I've heard nothing but good about you, and you obviously have experience with rescuing priests from robbers. What do you say to a job?"
"Well..." GS hesitated. His mission was to post the warning signs. But why not combine it with escorting this man safely down the Road? "Okay."
The priest smiled in gratitude, produced a club from somewhere in his own baggage which he handed to GS, and the two resumed their journey together. He began describing his Temple work, and his family, and his touring career teaching the Law across Judea. It was all so fascinating to GS that he didn't want to interrupt.
As they came around a bend, -- "There he is!" the priest yelled so suddenly that GS jumped. "After him - he's got my money!!" And with priestly garments flying, he raced down the path toward a man walking in the opposite direction toward them.
GS was startled into temporary paralysis, confusion clouding his brain. "What -?!"
"It's a thief, you idiot!" shouted the priest over his shoulder, still running. "Get over here with that club! NOW!!"
GS, repelled by the sudden change in the priest's tone, stood where he was and watched as the two men met. The other man was also a priest, and they appeared to know each other. They began arguing and gesturing, with most of the words lost, except when the second man raised his voice: "It's no good... you're not going to get away with your bogus 'self-defense' story this time! There's an eyewitness!"
His new employer replied in an arrogant voice, "That's what you think - he's with me!" Then to GS: "Go ahead, beat him senseless!"
"Now - wait a minute - I need some answers first!" GS answered hotly, approaching the pair. "This man, thief or not, is unarmed! What's your history with him? Isn't this one of your brother priests?"
"So what if he is? Do you think all priests are honest?" the accusing priest retorted. "He was supposed to turn over the money from the Temple treasury to my management, and he's holding out on me!"
"But aren't you all managing it together? This doesn't make sense..." Finally it dawned on him: This is Tsavuah...? He started to back away as his boss came at him.
"You know what - forget it, you're fired!" Tsavuah grabbed the club away from GS and swung at the other priest, felling him to the ground.
"No you don't! Not this time!" GS stepped in, taking a few blows that he barely felt in his anger, and he grabbed the club away again. The attacker, deprived of his weapon, backed away in fear... and open hatred. "You make me sick - with all your talk of love and compassion! You're nothing but a companion of thieves, you lousy, lying samaritan... You've betrayed my trust, and I'll deal with you... later." Then he turned on his heel and stalked away.
The Samaritan bent over the beaten man (now unconscious), picked him up and staggered over to his donkey, who had been patiently dozing through the whole confrontation. He gently laid the man down long enough to remove the signposts from his beast of burden. What do I do with these now? he wondered. This man needs medical attention, and yet... if I don't put these up, I'll bet he won't be the last.
He hesitated. No, the warning signs will have to wait. He dragged his signs off the road and left them behind a boulder. Then he shouldered the wounded priest onto the donkey and, with one last look in the direction Tsavuah had gone, GS turned back the way he'd come just an hour before.
After securing his newest patient at the inn (and listening to the innkeeper make tasteless jokes about his "medical career"), GS headed back to the Jericho Road. His donkey was showing signs of fatigue, so he left him behind. GS too was badly in need of a rest, but he felt a sense of urgency.
As though his thoughts had leaked from his mind and materialized in the air, he could hear the unmistakable noises of an unseen struggle coming from around the bend.
He was nearly running to get past the last boulder, in order to see what was going on, and -- whomp! -- he collided with a man standing on the edge of a small crowd. The man turned on GS, annoyed, and began with, "Hey - don't you know it's against halachah to interrupt a disciplinary hearing?!" He paused as his gaze took in GS's features. "No, I don't suppose you do... ignorant samaritan..." and he turned his back on GS, returning his attention to something in front.
GS moved around the edge of the crowd. The people were whispering and staring, apparently all of them focused on the same thing. But no one spoke aloud, except for two on his left who were discussing a business deal while eyeing the proceedings. What did that man say? A disciplinary hearing? All GS could hear was a series of thumps, some shuffling, and a groan. Two men grappling.... No, one was being held by others while the other was raining blows into his midsection... Oh no... not again - already?!
GS forced his way to the front of the crowd, grabbed Tsavuah by the shirt, and dragged him away from the fracas. "You're-- stop it!-- got to--" GS puffed, fighting to hang onto the enraged priest. He got a glimpse of the beaten man. It was the sad-eyed Jew who had thanked him for meeting with Tsavuah's past victims. Only now his eyes were swollen nearly shut, and he was gasping in an effort to breathe.
"Get him off me!" yelled Tsavuah, trying to twist out of the Samaritan's grip. Several bystanders jumped at the pair and grabbed GS, separating him from Tsavuah. One gave him a cuff in the ear and sent him sprawling in the dirt. Another kicked him in the ribs hard enough to roll him a few feet farther.
But GS was not feeling any pain. Only intense anger. He came up out of the roll onto his feet, taking a defensive position and ready to throw a punch at the next one who laid a hand on him. They backed away a respectful distance. Somebody whistled in mocking admiration.
"Someone - please - help that man on the ground...... Come on, people -- he's a fellow-Jew, one of your own!" GS panted, keeping one eye on the mob and the other on the victim. GS noticed that the crowd had grown, but no one was looking at the object of the recent beating. All were staring at him dumbly. The silence was broken by a cough, and then someone in the back suggested that it was time for lunch. Someone else gave quick directions on how to get to Tsavuah's house from there.
Meanwhile Tsavuah, trying to regain his dignity, spent a minute straightening his tunic and untangling his ritual fringes. "Okay, friends," he said finally, fixing GS with a cold stare. "You are my witnesses that this - this samaritan idolater attacked me. I want him off this Road... for good."
Four obliging priests grabbed GS by his arms and roughly marched him a dozen paces uphill, away from the Road. He could hear whispering beginning again, could feel the eyes of the crowd on his back. He wanted to turn around and say something biting to this group of Jews, but he was shocked into mute numbness by the whole incident.
Then he noticed Tsavuah keeping pace with him and his escorts. As he looked Tsavuah in the face, the priest smiled. "You know, I admire someone who can fight. I can give you a job that pays better than the last one I offered you, so look me up later."
The Samaritan felt a chill go down his back. He tries to scare me when he's caught in a corner, then tries to buy me once he's got things back under his control... This must be how he neutralizes his opposition! He spit at the ground for answer, narrowly missing Tsavuah's swinging ritual fringe.
The priest didn't seem offended; he leaned closer and said a mockingly friendly tone: "You really need to do something about that temper... and your urge to meddle in other people's business. You know, a lot of Jews believe the Samaritans have demons. You wouldn't want that to be added to the scandal you've already created for yourself."
He's baiting me. Anything I answer will only be used against me. GS looked away from the taunting eyes and bit his lip to keep quiet. The strongmen released him with a final shove and turned away, flanking their boss as they all strode in step back down to the Jericho Road.
Twenty minutes later, GS peered out from his hiding place between two boulders. The Road stretched away empty in both directions. He stepped onto it, hoisted two of his retrieved signposts over his shoulder, and with a large rock in his hand he looked for a strategic spot to pound the first sign into place.
It had been a long, stressful day, and GS had gone to bed shortly after sunset, right after returning from his sign-posting task. But he couldn't fall asleep. It wasn't the bruises from his encounter with Tsavuah's gang; when he was lying still, he could hardly feel them. No, it was the growing realization that something was very wrong, not just in Jerusalem but in Judea. How could one person hold the whole region hostage to his agenda?
Fine - not my region, and not my problem, he told himself, turning over onto the less bruised side. I'll stop at the innkeeper's door in the morning, leave enough to cover the expenses of... how many now?... um, four patients... right. And then I'm outta here.
He had just started to doze off when there was a loud, insistent pounding on the door. He awkwardly stumbled out of the bed and was groping for his cloak when the door was given one last pound, and then silence. He finally wrapped himself and unbolted the door. Finding a parchment tacked to the outside, he pulled it off and lit a lamp to read it:
"To the Good Samaritan, so-called, who is lodging
at the inn of Shimon bar Yakov:
A complaint has been voiced against you by prominent Temple servant Tsavuah bar Maimon.
You are invited to the court in the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem for a list of the charges,
followed by a hearing and judgment.
We are offering our good services in order to avoid a deterioration of the situation,
and we urge you to cooperate as a God-fearer and an honest man.
Failure to comply could make you subject to banishment from Judea
and/or arrest by the Roman cohort in charge of this area.
Signed, the Jerusalem City Council for Righteous Justice."
The innkeeper, having heard the noise, poked his head around the corner. "What's going on?" he asked thickly, not quite awake. GS showed him the note, which he read with a puzzled frown. "Strange," he mumbled.
"In what way?"
"Well... First off, the charge isn't listed here, which ought to be standard procedure. Who ever heard of demanding that someone show up to a hearing and only then revealing the complaint against them? Hmm... Then there is this bit about 'banishment from Judea' - no Jews have had the power to do that since the Hasmonean kings... sounds like an empty threat to me. But now, Roman arrest - that's a totally different judicial system, which Jews don't use except as a last resort... for capital offenses."
He looked up from the parchment, and for the first time since they had met, there was a faint hint of suspicion in the innkeeper's eyes as he studied GS. "What have you been up to?" he demanded.
"Rescuing wounded Jews, as you very well know!" GS retorted. He didn't mean to say it in such a strident, defensive tone, but he was feeling the lack of sleep, the day's events still galled him, and Tsavuah's jab about Samaritans having demons - ridiculous as it was - had left some of its poison in his soul.
Why did I ever get involved with these people? he wondered. Tsavuah is right - I must be under an obsessive urge to meddle in affairs I have no right to touch. I'm in over my head, and I don't even belong here. I ought to just leave now, while I still can... He had the weird, irrational feeling that Tsavuah's spirit was hovering nearby, just out of sight, waiting for the innkeeper to leave GS alone... waiting to attack, to do something hideous and painful to him, to punish him for his meddling---
"But who is this 'City Council for Righteous Justice'?"
It was as if a spell had been broken. GS, suddenly aware that he had been thinking utter nonsense for the last minute, was jerked back to reality by the sensible question.
It came from another guest of the inn, who had come up behind them in the dark and was now reading the parchment over the innkeeper's shoulder. A companion was with him. Apparently the door-pounding had disturbed others... and GS was unreasonably glad of the small knot of people around him now.
"I've heard of them," said the second newcomer. "They're a local group of activists who want to reform the Jerusalem justice system, make it authentically Judean and faithful to Torah, that sort of thing. They're kind of controversial because they declared independence from the Sanhedrin."
GS, who had been studying the signature, looked up with interest. "Have they been doing a good job?"
The man looked at his friend and scratched his head. "Don't know. They're too new to have much of a track record."
The innkeeper shrugged and avoided everyone's eyes. "I'm too far from the city to keep up with Jerusalem politics."
GS returned to his room, having already forgotten his irrational fear of something lurking in the dark. By the time he settled back into bed, he had decided to take up Tsavuah's challenge and test the quality of this new, independent group of judges. "...cooperate as a God-fearer and an honest man..." Maybe the day had finally come when the Temple would be cleansed of its mysterious stink.
GS walked into the Sheep Gate with the summons in his hand, asking a bystander where he might find the City Council for Righteous Justice. The man pointed to the corner where two Pharisees sat in casual conversation. As GS approached, they stopped and looked up. In answer to his query, they assumed a posture of importance and responded courteously.
"Ah, the Good Samaritan, is it? Yes, yes, we know about your difficulties with our colleague Tsavuah. His complaint against you? Actually, he hasn't been terribly specific about that, only mentioned something about a sum of money that he claims that you have, which belongs to him--"
"What?!" GS interrupted them in disbelief. "I worked for him less than an hour, and I didn't take so much as a sandal thong from him in payment!"
"Well, you see, the plaintiff has insisted that the charges be revealed only at the hearing, so we ourselves don't know much more than that. Now, it's true that the Torah commands us to prepare a trial by investigating thoroughly and examining the evidence. And those requirements are good ideals to aim for. But they can't always be kept. Tsavuah is in great distress over this matter, you understand, and sometimes it's simply better to be flexible rather than to allow disputes to go unsettled and broken relationships to fester."
The other judge nodded wisely, but seeing the look on GS's face, he hastened to add, "At any rate, be assured that the only way to remove the cloud of doubt over your reputation is to appear at a hearing and let the truth come out. We are committed to impartial judgment, for the Torah says: 'one law shall there be for the resident and for the alien'. Be assured we will get to the bottom of this."
GS, wondering how judges could schedule a case without first determining if there WAS a case, nevertheless agreed. He waited in a corner while a messenger boy was sent to Tsavuah with a proposed time. The boy returned with an affirmative answer, the hearing was set for the next day, and again the Council representatives advised GS to "be assured" that the matter would be settled with complete justice. After all, that was why they had formed the Council in the first place.
When GS returned the next day at the appointed time, he found Tsavuah already there, lounging with the judges in the shade of the Gate. He was flanked by his bodyguards, who gave GS hostile looks and knowing sneers. But Tsavuah himself seemed to not notice the arrival of the defendant. Nor did the judge to his left, who was admiring a richly embroidered cloak.
"Well now, Tsavuah, I do appreciate your thoughtfulness," said the judge warmly. "This is a most welcome addition to my wardrobe. It really does have a judicial look to it, doesn't it? Everyone will know at a glance what my position is."
Tsavuah smiled and agreed. Then he reached over to slap the back of the second judge. "About that loan you need for your scribal project -- your worries are over. I've found you a patron."
The man he was addressing brightened noticeably. "Thank God," he said with heartfelt sincerity.
Only then did Tsavuah look up at the Samaritan, searching his face for signs that GS had seen and heard it all. The stony expression told the priest what he wanted to know. "Okay," he said smugly. "We're ready to start this hearing."
The judges settled themselves, arranged their ritual fringes over their robes and cleared their throats, gesturing to Tsavuah to begin. The latter rose to his feet, struck a theatrical pose opposite the standing Samaritan and began to recite, apparently from memory, a list of charges against "this scheming, unscrupulous idolator". GS listened to his rambling, melodramatic speech with a growing sense of unreality.
"This man has sabotaged my Temple ministry by joining forces with lawless Jews. He is in fact a disgruntled former employee of mine, who has become the ringleader of a new gang in Judea composed of those who have attacked me in the past. He has conspired with them to rob me and has helped them to escape justice by hiding them at a safe-house disguised as an inn.
"More recently, he has slandered my good name by talking to Jews throughout Jerusalem and falsely accusing me of beating innocent travelers on the Jericho Road. According to my sources, he has harassed several Temple officials with intrusive questions about my private affairs. Besides not being entitled to speak on the issue of disputes between Temple priests, he has disturbed the entire city with his talk. We have had to spend hours explaining to upset people that there was no problem among the priests of Jerusalem, UNTIL this Samaritan took it upon himself to organize those who have a grudge against me. I might add that this conspiracy took place before he began to work for me, and therefore his acceptance of employment from me constitutes dishonorable behavior."
GS could tell that Tsavuah was only getting started. He sighed and asked if he could sit for the rest of the monolog. The judges nodded. Tsavuah just looked irritated at the interruption, and then continued:
"As a result of the foregoing, our Temple fund for needy Judeans, which I was appointed by the Temple to manage -- and which I personally built up from nothing into one of the largest funds in Judea -- has yielded 60% to 70% less income than before. And the bottom line is -- I am not very good at requesting help for myself, nor am I particularly inclined to make personal appeals, but -- the bottom line is that my wife and I need help personally, because our own finances have been invested in the fight to clear my good name and bring the evildoers to justice.
"Despite my best efforts in damage control, we have, for the most part, seen only modest contributions restored, for which we are nevertheless grateful. However, it remains clear that we still have a long road of recovery before us. With Godís help, we can continue assisting the needy as we have been, notwithstanding the pressures and difficulties caused by the painful and unprovoked attacks on my reputation. Needless to say, your friendship and prayers mean a lot to us." He looked each judge in turn, and they both responded with warm smiles.
"But allow me to point out," Tsavuah continued, raising his voice, "that all this damage was instigated by one who believes that God should be worshiped at that heretical place in Samaria, in total violation of our holy Torah. Now mind you, I am not one to make groundless accusations of heresy, and my own theological views are considered controversial by some, but speaking as one who has studied Torah and gained great insight, I have no need to defend myself. Suffice to say I will never compromise with those who, by using word wizardry and mental gymnastics, lower the Almighty God to the level of man by employing the most bizarre expressions of mathematics ever contemplated - '100% God AND 100% man.' Our countrymen who have become followers of the latest false messiah have reported him to say, 'I and the Father are One', and 'He who has seen me has seen the Father.' But a careful study of the matter will reveal their absolute ignorance of Torah, to the extent that if a giant 'Alef' fell from the sky and hit them on the head, they wouldn't know it.... Away with you, who say that the Mashiach will be 'Adonai'!"
GS found his attention drifting as Tsavuah wandered into a convoluted defense of his teaching, alternating that with more ridicule of those who apparently disagreed with him. He caught only part of a tirade about "the concerted efforts to remove me from my priestly ministry because of my theological views, which have all to date backfired upon those whose morals and ethics consistently give them a green light to carry out the unconscionable....", and from this he gathered that Tsavuah's view was a minority opinion in Jerusalem. He sleepily wondered what this Judean theological dispute had to do with his hearing, or with the beaten priests who had been "brought to justice", as Tsavuah put it.
He was brought back to awareness by the sight of one of his signposts being pulled out of a dim corner, as Tsavuah continued in a particularly injured tone:
"His chutspah finally culminated in putting these accusations in writing and posting libelous signposts on the Road, which are now putting my very life in danger!" He motioned to one of his bodyguards, who turned the signpost to the light so that the judges could read it.
GS snorted in derision. "Putting your life in danger - what nonsense! What, will you die if you can't beat people up?!"
One of the judges leaned forward to read the sign
out loud: "Danger! Beware of the Robber-Priests who use this Road
for revenge attacks. Make every effort to avoid one named Tsavuah bar Maimon.
Shoot him on sight if you can." He drew his eyebrows together and turned a stern look on GS.
"Whoa - whoa! I didn't write that last bit... I wrote something completely different!" protested GS, genuinely shocked. "Let me see that sign!" He shoved past the guards who were moving in to surround him, and turned the wooden sign to face him. With relief, he saw that the offensive line had been crudely added by someone. It was printed over his original words which were now hidden under whitewash.
"There - you see? That's painted over, and that's not even my writing."
The judges looked at each other in silence, then back at GS. The one with the new cloak finally spoke. "With all due respect, Samaritan, why should we believe you? How do we know that you didn't change the sign yourself as an afterthought? And even if you didn't write the one line, you are still guilty of the damage that was done. You admit that the rest is your work, and even the parts that are true are hurtful to this priest. And to the holy Temple as well."
"So the one who points out sin becomes the sinner? Is that what the Torah teaches?"
"The Torah says we must not speak evil of a priestly brother and a ruler. He serves God's people, and if he has done any wrong, it is not our job to rebuke him. It's the job of God's people."
GS was undecided whether to laugh or cry. He searched his mind for a respectful way to point out to these judges that they had just declared themselves unqualified to judge, but he gave it up. "Well then," he said finally, "if you will not rebuke him for his bullying, then I suppose an eyewitness might do it in fulfillment of Torah."
And turning to Tsavuah, he said, "I spoke with a whole roomful of Jews you have hurt and sinned against. I found you on the Jericho Road in the act of directing a mob attack. You need to repent."
The judges and Tsavuah's guards erupted as one, filling the air with a mixture of jeers from the latter and outraged exclamations from the former. "By whose authority do you speak in such a way to a priest of the Lord, Samaritan?!" demanded the second judge. "A single witness is not valid testimony! If any others have an accusation against Tsavuah, why are they not here?"
The first judge pounded his fist on the wall in frustration, and shouted at GS, "Why are you picking on this man, of all people?! What about the priests under Ari bar Shlomo, who are notorious for their corruption, neglecting their duties, and abuse as well? Why aren't you going after them??"
GS sat silent, stunned by this new revelation, not to mention the way it was delivered. Tsavuah also sat silent, listening to the outpouring of support with a half-smile.
Regaining his self-control, the presiding judge said sternly, "We will overlook your impudence for now. You have no right to call a Judean to repent. And it is you who are on trial here, not this priest. I must restrict you to answering the charges against you."
GS was wishing he had gone home to Samaria after all. "I have done nothing wrong," he stated flatly with a defiant stare.
"What about these signs? Do you deny that they are your work?"
"No. I deny that it was wrong to put them up." GS decided not to point out that Tsavuah's charges of robbery and conspiracy had apparently been forgotten in the uproar. It was enough insult that the only charge they saw fit to examine was his meager attempt to protect the defenseless, undertaken only because the proper authorities had all shied away from that duty. "I was trying to prevent further injury to your people," he said, and placed heavy emphasis on "your".
The first judge cleared his throat uneasily. "You are insinuating that we don't defend our people from harm. Well, it's understandable in a way. You're a Samaritan. You have no idea how packed our ministry schedule is. How are we to neglect a hundred concerns that affect the whole community, and focus on one or two Jews who sustained bumps on their heads? And as we already pointed out, none of them have filed complaints or asked for a hearing."
The second judge admonished: "You took sides in a fight that is not really yours, and that was your own choice. We are not part of your personal vendetta against Tsavuah, and you should not try to pull us into it."
"Fine. I'm not the one who asked for this hearing, and I'm not pulling you anywhere." GS got up from the floor and turned to leave.
"Wait!" commanded the first judge. "We don't want this dispute to go unresolved. In order that the desecration of God's name should not continue, we have prepared a statement for you to sign, promising to cease from spreading your slander against this priest of the Lord."
As GS looked at him with raised eyebrows, he hastened to add: "We are determined to be even-handed about the whole affair, so we have prepared a similar statement for Tsavuah to sign. He will refrain from any negative comment or punitive actions against you for your attacks on him." The judge looked expectantly at Tsavuah, who had lost his half-smile and was staring sullenly at the ground.
"Nope," the priest said stubbornly. "I want an apology from this idolater, in public, on the Temple steps. I want him to burn all the libelous signs in my presence. And then I want him to go to his Jewish accomplices and collect my stolen money from them."
The Samaritan had had enough. "At least now I have the answer to why the attacks on the Jericho Road have continued for so long," he snapped. "I guess the Romans will have to step in." Again he turned to leave.
One of Tsavuah's bodyguards stepped into his path. "If you dare to file a complaint with the Romans, you will live to regret it - just like those who you found on the road," he threatened in a low, contemptuous voice.
The trembling in GS's voice was not from fear, but from fury. "You know what? I won't have to. As God is my witness, your own conduct will bring your house - this entire city - down on your heads!"
Then he stepped around the bodyguard and stalked out. But not before he heard Tsavuah calling after him, "You still don't get it, do you?"
GS took a very long walk before returning to the inn, trying to work off his anger in the exercise. As he came in sight of the inn's courtyard, he saw there was still more trouble waiting for him.
His belongings had been taken out of his room and stacked outside the door, and the innkeeper was standing in the doorway, his body language announcing the eviction more clearly than the pile of stuff next to him.
"What's up?" asked the weary Samaritan, knowing the answer and almost not caring what the excuse was.
The innkeeper was apologetic but firm. "I'm really sorry, but I can't afford to tangle with a Roman court."
"Let me guess." GS sighed, closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. "You got a summons to answer charges."
"Worse than that," came the reply in a lowered voice, as if afraid of being overheard. "I'm already guilty... never told you before... Tsavuah loaned me the money to buy this inn and start my business. It's taking me a long time to pay him back, and he just sent word that if I don't get rid of you immediately, he's calling in his loan... and if I can't pay - and he knows I can't - he's turning me over to the debtor's prison."
"So this is another way Tsavuah controls people? Does the needy a favor, and then holds it over their heads to keep them in line."
His host nodded sheepishly and his expression softened. "Listen, I really admire what you've done for those people beaten on the Road by... well, by whoever did it. For what it's worth, I see you as the model of righteous action that I wish I could have been."
"Hmm, 'for what it's worth'... not worth a room though," GS couldn't help saying drily.
The other looked down. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "You'll have to move on. Not just for my sake. Word is out that Tsavu-- that there will be a Temple guard coming to arrest you, because you refused to return stolen money to Tsa--- to the Temple treasury. No, don't bother answering - I know as well as you it's a false charge. What idiot is going to believe that a Samaritan had access to the Temple treasury? But you never know what kind of 'evidence' he might conjure up to make it stick... and there are others who owe him favors."
"Okay, I'm going already. But what about the injured Jews who are still here?"
The innkeeper shrugged and answered, "They're quiet guests... if you get my meaning. As long as they stay quiet, they're not a problem to keep here. You've already taken care of their expenses, and then some."
GS turned his back on the businessman and started packing his things. The other watched him long enough to see that GS was serious about leaving, and then moved away to his other tasks.
GS heard a soft sound behind him and turned quickly, ready for another confrontation. Then he relaxed and smiled sadly. It was one of his earliest patients, now in the final stages of recovery. The man had been beaten badly, GS remembered; he had been barely breathing when they arrived at the inn. He evaluated the fruit of his care with quiet satisfaction as the man now approached him on steady legs.
"I heard," the Jew said simply. He put out his hand and clasped GS on the arm warmly. "I won't forget you, or your kindness."
GS returned his grasp silently, unable to say anything with the tightening in his throat.
"By the way," the man continued, his eyes lighting up, "I also heard from my cousin today.... He was the one priest from the Temple fund who actually got dragged into a Roman trial by Tsavuah."
"Yes, I remember." GS waited, hopeful. The man's expression hinted at some good news.
"You won't believe it." The Jew's eyes twinkled. "The magistrate listened to 8 days of nonstop testimony from Tsavuah and his lackeys. A lot of the stories didn't even match, but the Roman seemed to let it pass. My cousin was getting really worried about the judge's silence through the whole thing. He had been through the same experience with the Sanhedrin, you see, and he was sure there was going to be the same outcome - another guilty verdict - only this time it would mean flogging with a Roman whip."
"And, the Roman sat there until the very end, and then he ordered my cousin to speak on his own behalf. Before 2 minutes had passed, the magistrate stopped him and said: 'I've heard enough.' Then he gave Tsavuah a legal lecture... said that he needed to learn more about good accounting practices. That's one thing the Romans know how to do, keep proper records. But then, this man - a pagan, mind you - told our Jewish priest: 'Just because your Temple team wasn't struck down by your God for the irregularities, that doesn't mean they should have waited for disaster to strike in order to take some preventative action, when they know their God requires a full accounting. They have to follow through with that.' Then he just said: 'The defendant is innocent' and sent him home.'
GS grinned, enjoying the scene in his imagination. "And how did Tsavuah take it, learning Torah from a Roman?"
A chuckle escaped the other man. "He stomped out, declaring that the judge was biased against him and that he would appeal the verdict. But the Romans are not so easy to manipulate like the Temple brotherhood. The higher he goes in the Roman court system, the more he's going to be under pressure to prove his case. All in all, it's a good development."
"Yeah, maybe he'll be so busy arguing his way up to Rome's highest court, he'll have less time to waylay fellow-Jews on the Jericho Road," remarked GS, catching the other's good mood.
"Yes, a worthy prayer!..." the patient's voice trailed off, and he gazed fondly at GS. "Thank you for everything you've done for all of us. May God reward you."
"The God of Israel bless you, and may you merit to see the return of His Divine Favor," GS responded, for the first time blessing a Jew with a traditional Samaritan blessing. And he meant every word.
GS led his donkey down the steep hill on the road that led north, toward home. He could have found another room to spend the night and started his trip in the morning. But he didn't want to stay in Judea one hour longer than necessary. If I never see the walls of that accursed city again, I will be content. Besides, every day he delayed his return would make it that much harder to revive his business.
His donkey recognized the homeward direction and was setting a fair pace, with ears pointed forward. GS should have felt the same way. But the events of the last days clung to him like the fine gray dust of the road. He couldn't be sure which it was that was choking him and making his eyes burn. He felt drained, depressed, alone in his humiliation and grief. Why am I grieving? he wondered. They're not my kinsmen; what they're doing to one another is not my problem.
The realization brought back the feelings from the night when he had received the summons to that farce of a hearing. What made me think it was my job to stop their cycle of violence and silence? Why did I ever stick my neck out? What did I accomplish, besides getting into trouble and ruining my good name? Then his mind went back unbidden to the roomful of traumatized Jews, their faces expressing relief and gratitude that someone - even if it were only a Samaritan - would take the time to listen to their pain... and tell them that God saw their situation.
That was worth something, wasn't it? The question came to his mind, seemingly from elsewhere.
"I guess so," GS answered out loud before he realized that he was doing it. Oh, great, now I'm talking to myself. Aah, who cares... There's no one out here to notice.
"So... while we're on the subject..." he muttered half-jokingly and paused to kick a stone out of the path of his plodding donkey. Then becoming serious, he tried to think it through, still speaking out loud. "If God saw their situation, why didn't He stand up for them, plead their cause? A predator posing as a priest of His was allowed to do all that damage... it went on for years... and to this day no one has lifted a finger to stop it? Instead, others are lending a hand to help him.... And I'm the bad guy for blowing the whistle on the whole dirty business."
He didn't expect a reply, and he didn't get one. Talking to the air. He quit speaking and sighed deeply. Well, it's history. I've got to let it go, get on with my life. Whatever reason God has for staying out of the picture, it's not for me to figure it out.
But the thought brought him no comfort or release. Justice denied to innocent people, guilty people getting away with things - even flaunting it... evil and abuse done in God's name, with apathy and self-serving denial covering it all. Such issues could not be soothed away with platitudes like "God knows".
Obviously He knows. But knowing is different from caring.
He yanked his mind back from that thought; it seemed blasphemous. And yet he had nothing with which to "defend" God, so he shut down his argument with himself altogether. He made an effort instead to focus on the surrounding landscape.
Ah, this is more like it. The mountains on either side of the road were going through their subtle changes from the chalky tan cliffs of Judea to the rust-streaked banks of his native region. Stately olive trees stood like stout guardians on the mountain tops, the clear air making them look closer than they really were. The rocks were piled up in low terrace walls that straggled up, down and across the hillsides, dividing them into rough pastures browned by the summer heat. Contrasting with the dusty green of olive, fig and almond tree branches, the limestone fences glowed orange in the slanting sun.
He became aware of long shadows darkening the valley on his left, telling him that evening was almost upon him. Turning off the road, he took a path leading upward toward a grove of trees to camp for the night.
After he tended to his beast, he ate a simple meal and then made a bed for himself in the wild grass, already damp with dew. Familiar earthy smells came up to him as he cleared away some sharp porous rocks and uncovered the rich brown dirt. Samaria! Who could be depressed in this sweet, fertile hill country? he thought to himself, a measure of peace finally settling on him. The Judeans didn't know what they were missing when they took the long way around to Galilee. Days out of their way, through the wilderness, just to avoid us... Well, their loss is our gain. Mount Gerizim, Joseph's tomb and Jacob's well. They can keep their temple... especially after what I've seen of it.
His bleak mood returned as he wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down to sleep. Even the moon, rising full over the eastern hill like a perfect marble disk in the deepening blue, could not cheer him. God, why do You allow Tsavuah to mangle innocent people and terrorize everyone into silence? Can it be that You don't care about justice anymore? Then again, was it really God's fault that His people were looking the other way while a wicked man did what he pleased? Jerusalem obviously liked things the way they were... or at least didn't dislike things enough to take a stand and end it. The scene arose in his mind of the man being beaten while the crowd watched and discussed lunch plans. GS rolled over miserably and pulled his cloak over his head, shutting his eyes.
He rolled onto his other side. He couldn't get comfortable. His foot suddenly cramped and he sat up, trying to stretch it out. No good. As though conspiring against him, his other foot arched in another, even more painful cramp. GS jumped to his feet with a curse, trying to work the muscles back to normalcy. They resisted, and he limped back and forth on the dirt path, looking carefully where he was stepping in the moonlight. Last thing I need is to step on a scorpion or a viper. His eyes were still burning, and as he coughed and felt his head throb in response, he realized his low feeling wasn't entirely emotional: he was getting sick.
The moon was nearing the western hills when he was finally able to relax and lay down again. But still sleep wouldn't come.
The next thing he knew, he awoke to the chatter of birds in the trees around him. The cloudless sky was showing the golden pink tinge of dawn, and there was a faint breeze. His cloak was covered with heavy dew.
He felt chilled, stiff and exhausted. His head was pounding, and the bird noise that he usually enjoyed was irritating. I'm not ready for this day.... He found another position and tried to go back to sleep. Then he raised his head and listened.
Someone was coming up the path he had taken from the road. Whoever it was, he wasn't concerned about stealth - rocks were crunching under his sandals, and he was whistling a Samaritan folksong to himself, cheerful but off-key. Not likely a robber. But who would be out on the road at this hour?
GS glanced at his donkey, which was tied to a tree between him and the road. He could see its ears pointed attentively in the direction of the sound, and it was pulling against its rope as if wanting to join the whistler. My donkey shies away from strangers, he thought wonderingly. Could this be someone it knows, from my village?
A moment later his question was answered, only to be replaced by more questions. In the growing light of the dawn, a stranger came into view, climbing the hill from the road below. His clothing marked him not as a Samaritan but a Galilean Jew... and not a wealthy one either, judging from his homespun cloak and small bundle of belongings.
Something was vaguely familiar about him. The Samaritan couldn't place the face, but he understood his donkey's reaction - and without knowing why, he too was glad to see this man, even at such an odd hour in this unlikely place. What is a Jew doing on the road going straight through Samaria? How did he come to learn one of our songs? The cheerfulness of the traveler was contagious, and even though the morning sun had not yet risen over the hills, GS felt warmed.
Then the man saw him and suddenly stopped walking and whistling, like someone surprised to find another occupying the place where he had thought himself alone. But he recovered quickly, closed the distance between them, and climbed up onto a large rock shelf a short distance from GS.
"Sorry if I startled you," he said good-naturedly, and not sounding at all apologetic. But GS didn't think of that; the accent in the voice, like the face, stirred a blurred memory. Who is he? The answer seemed just out of reach.
"Do I know you?" GS finally asked, unable to think of a more tactful way to phrase it.
A smile broke the man's sun-darkened face, and he chuckled. "Well, I'm a shepherd. My sheep know me. Are you one of my sheep?" The tone was teasing, yet somehow it sounded like a serious question.
GS sat up slowly. "I almost wish I were," he sighed. "The life of a sheep would be a lot easier than the one I've been living." And driven by his loneliness, he began to tell about his recent ordeal.
His companion sat listening, not interrupting, with dark eyes fixed on him. He seemed to look not just at him, but into him... seeing even the things GS found too painful to express. Those eyes... again the sense of familiarity swept over him.
After some time, GS ran out of things to say and apologized for his impulsive monolog. "You're probably on your way somewhere, and you don't even know me."
The stranger seemed neither self-conscious nor inclined to move. He settled more comfortably on the rock. "I wouldn't say that."
GS started to wonder if his lack of sleep and pounding head were clouding his thinking, or if this man's simple answers really carried more than they seemed to. He smiled at his own confusion as he asked, "You mean you have no place you need to be, or you actually do know me?"
"I know that you've been a neighbor to those who you found on the Jericho Road."
The Samaritan gave a sharp laugh. "I should have quit while I was ahead! They called me 'the Good Samaritan' as long as I stuck to patching up the casualties. But the minute I tried to stop the casualties, I was nothing but a troublemaker who didn't know how to mind his own business."
"Hmmm. 'A troubler of Israel', are you? You're in good company -- that's how God's prophets are usually branded. But you weren't entirely rejected, you know. You have some grateful friends back there. And you have God's favor. Tsavuah can't take those things away from you."
GS was about to ask the man how he knew about the "grateful friends", but he forgot everything when he heard the priest's name. Having learned the hard way how far Tsavuah's influence extended among the Jews, he had purposely avoided naming the abuser. "Tsavuah! So you know him too?"
The stranger didn't answer for a moment. For the first time since their conversation had started, he looked away from GS, down the hillside. His features darkened, and GS caught a glimpse of swift, intense anger that passed over the man's face, so fierce that GS regretted repeating the name.
Then the fury evaporated like a cloud, and the weatherbeaten face became serene. "Don't worry, my friend," he said as the eyes returned to search those of GS. "No one is getting away with anything."
GS, still in awe over the righteous wrath he had witnessed, ventured a gentle question. "Did he do something very terrible to you?"
"Yes. He has done great injury to those I love, and that's the same as doing it to me."
GS's forehead wrinkled. Another answer that said more than it said. "Your family?"
The other looked at him intently. "Yes. My family. My brothers, sisters. Those who do the will of my Father in Heaven."
Suddenly the man's identity fell into place. The Jew who stopped at our well, who asked Rachel for a drink... the rabbi with his disciples trailing behind, who stayed and taught in our village... the prophet... no, He's -- the Messiah! The One sent to restore God's favor upon us!
"I remember now! I DO know You! And -- and, I..." Unbidden, GS's eyes filled and his voice caught as he tried to finish.
The Messiah responded with a wide and welcoming smile. The olive grove seemed to light up with His joy, and He finished the sentence as if He had heard GS's thought: "And yes, you ARE one of My sheep!"
GS struggled to his feet and threw himself to the ground in front of the Teacher who he had met only once, years before. He had not seen Him since, but he had never forgotten His teaching: "You shall love the Lord your God... And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all of the Law and the Prophets."
Yeshua nimbly slid down from the boulder and raised GS from the ground. He embraced him strongly, kissed him soundly like a well-loved relative, and said in his ear: "You have done well, good and faithful servant. Don't let your heart be troubled. You are being called 'the Bad Samaritan' by some, but truly I tell you, they are calling Me worse than that!"
He sighed and looked up at the sky, now vivid blue in the early sun. "As it is written: 'So they weighed out for My shepherd's wages, thirty pieces of silver - that princely price they set on Me...'."
He returned His gaze to GS. "There will always be Tsavuahs among My people. They are left there by My Father. And since I do only what I see Him doing, they are left there by Me as well. Do you know why, My friend?"
GS shook his head wordlessly, anxious to know that very thing.
"They are a test for those who have been entrusted with the care of My flock. Or those who have taken up the shepherd's staff of their own accord. Even to test the sheep themselves."
Yeshua climbed onto the rock again, leaned back on it and motioned for GS to sit beside Him. The Samaritan self-consciously clambered up, wondering at the honor of being able to sit next to the Anointed One so casually. Did He really call me His friend just now? He was continuing His explanation.
"Some Tsavuahs are wolves in sheep's clothing, waiting for the chance to strike, terrorize and feed on others. Other Tsavuahs are rebellious rams, strutting through the flock, thrusting aside the weak with their horns and fouling the pastures where the hungry are meant to feed.
"A good shepherd will face the butting horns and kicking hooves, in order to deal out discipline - or the slashing fangs and claws, in order to cut off an attack. He thinks of the flock first, and he will risk personal injury to himself to take care of them. Those sheep are as dear to him as his own family.
"A hireling... he can do the job of a shepherd when all goes smoothly. But for him that's ALL shepherding is - a job. It's to earn his living, put his gifts to use, build his reputation for leadership. Trying to deal with horns, hooves or fangs is time-consuming, expensive, painful... he will back away from 'messy situations' and let the sheep fend for themselves. In his view, self-protection is not cowardly, it's smart: the job is not worth risking personal injury.
"Only when the sheep come under attack are the true shepherds distinguishable from the hirelings. And although this part should be obvious, My people always seem dismayed to find that the two kinds of leaders do not get along with each other. As a rule, they collide going in opposite directions - the shepherds fighting their way through the flock to get at the wolf, and the hirelings fighting their way through the flock to get away from the wolf.
"Yes, the sheep are thrown into confusion by the confrontation between them. But upsetting the flock is healthy when there is danger among them. What - is it better to be quietly picked off by a predator, one by one, so as not to 'disturb' the others?? Not all unity is from Me, and not all division is from the enemy."
GS felt a rush of vindication. "So then, what will happen to the hirelings in Jerusalem? Surely this is proof that it is an unholy place, and You will judge them now that--"
Yeshua's face became stern in rebuke. "Their judgment is not your affair. They will answer to the Master Shepherd, both as shepherds and as sheep. As you yourself also answer to Me."
GS swallowed and looked down. The Teacher's words came back through his memory: "The day is coming when you will not worship in Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth."
As though the words had been repeated aloud, he replied contritely, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... It's just that... How long will a wolf be allowed to run around with the flock? I mean, he does a lot more than just test everyone - what about the damage? What happens to the sheep he's tearing up, if no shepherd steps in to protect them?"
"You're forgetting that I am THE Shepherd. I never leave My flock - never! How much more when there is danger? My presence is a continual protection to those of My sheep who stay close to Me, for a wolf cannot bear to be anywhere near Me.
"But the wolf's presence does not drive all sheep to My side.... Some think they can 'live with' him - they try to ignore his evil deeds so they can benefit from his 'good deeds'. Others don't even notice him - they are too intent on eating, sleeping or picking fights with one another. When the wolf falls on them, it is never without prior warning.
"Yet even if they are brought down, they will not be destroyed. All that the Father has given Me are Mine forever; no one can take My sheep out of My hands. Always they will find Me there if they search for Me, and they will heal under My intensive care. If they should panic and run the wrong way, out of the flock altogether... then I go out after them, bind up their wounds and bring them back in. Either way, the lessons they learn are not easily forgotten.
"Don't you learn from your own physical body that pain can be a friend? How many times were you saved from serious injury or death because you heeded its warning? My sheep learn from pain in the same way. They eventually grow wiser, humbler, stay closer to Me. And I tell you truly, more than a few hirelings have become true shepherds after learning what it feels like to be mauled by a predator."
GS was thinking intently. "So being wounded is good for the sheep and those who care for them? We shouldn't try to get rid of the wolves or prevent the destruction he brings?"
"Don't even think that! I don't want My flock to experience pain! Its only value is to warn them away from danger, and after they receive the message it becomes My priority to banish both the pain and its source.
"I tell you truly, wounds are inevitable as long as there are ravening wolves and bullying rams, but woe to the one who willfully inflicts pain on My flock.... He who destroys in My holy sheepfold always imagines he is in control, and yet I hold his very life and breath in My hands.
"And the one who sees the least of My sheep being torn or bullied, who has been given the means to stop it and yet does nothing, he will find a fearful judgment awaiting him. And not just in the next life; the day is coming when everything whispered in the inner rooms will be shouted from the rooftops.
"As for the wounded sheep, the one who binds them up does well, and the one who prevents the wounds from ever happening does better. Yes, blessed is he who even tries to prevent them, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails! All of them will receive the reward of a good shepherd. And the one who puts himself in harm's way and suffers injury to protect My sheep -- he will receive double honor, and I Myself will stand up to serve him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb."
Then squeezing the Good Samaritan around the shoulders, He said briskly, "Now, we both need to be about our Father's business. You are headed north, I must continue south into Judea. But we will meet again."
Suddenly a bird in a tree overhead broke into singing... the most melodious, beautiful birdsong that GS had ever heard. He craned his neck, looking here and there, and finally he spotted the source. It was a bird that he didn't recognize. Its dull gray feathers were commonplace, but its open beak was pouring forth the remarkable music. The creature formed a dark silhouette against the bright blue heaven, releasing a warbling of praise that kept changing... passionate, intricate and sweet... a feast for the ears.
Then the Samaritan noticed several things in rapid succession:
He was alone in the sun-drenched grove. Where his Master had been reclining was a fresh, spicy fragrance that was almost drinkable.
He no longer felt sick or stiff, bruised or weary.
And his soul was filled with unfathomable peace.
IS THERE LIFE AFTER "TSAVUAH"?
Are you a victim -- or an eyewitness -- of "Family
abuse" taking place in the Lord's Body?
Have you been intimidated or manipulated into silence by the "can't talk" rule, or the "unity at all costs" rule?
Are you struggling to recover from the damage caused by a "Tsavuah"... or from the damage caused by leaders you trusted who refused to help you, or who even sided with your abuser?
Join an off-line discussion group , "Life After Tsavuah" -- a support group established for and by those who have been through similar experiences. All followers of Yeshua (Jewish and non-Jewish) are welcome.
Some Sources of Information on Spiritual Abuse
REST MINISTRIES: Founded by Ron Henzel in 1997 in order to address a problem that exists in various pockets across the entire spectrum of beliefs and practices that contitutes evangelical Christianity: the problem of Spiritual Abuse. "We find the 'Spiritual Abuse' designation to be helpful when comunicating with people who narrowly define 'cults' merely as groups that deviate from Christianity on major points of teaching (such as the Trinity, or the Deity of Christ), and who do not apply the word 'cult' term to groups with orthodox statements of faith.
SPIRITUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH: "We (Cult Awareness & Information Centre) have listed this information to make vulnerable people aware of some of the problems they can encounter in some churches and organizations. We ask Church leaders to consider prayerfully what is on these pages that they may not fall into using the same manipulative practices the cults use."
CHURCH EXITERS: Resources, books, concise summaries and links to online groups, all dealing with recognizing spiritual abuse and recovering from it.
SPIRITUAL ABUSE RECOVERY RESOURCES: A site by Jeff VanVonderen, coauthor of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. "Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own."
CHRISTIAN DEPRESSION site: Explores spiritual abuse as an unrecognized cause of depression among believers. Seven characteristics of an abusive system, distilled from the above-mentioned book.
BULLY ONLINE: Not focused on spiritual abuse or written by believers, it still has accurate profiles of abusers in the workplace, the family, and non-profit charities. A wealth of information on how to recognize the effects of abuse, how to deal with abusers, stories from survivors, and an answer to that persistent question: "why me?"