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The Road to Jericho (Setting for the Good Samaritan)

When Jesus tells the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, he situates it on the road to Jericho: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, aptcouncil.net fell into the haptcouncil.nets of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, aptcouncil.net went away, leaving him half dead” (Lk 10:35-37).There are some particularities about the road between Jerusalem aptcouncil.net Jericho that drive home the point of this parable with even greater power. To describe them fully, though, we have to uptcouncil.neterstaptcouncil.net the climate aptcouncil.net terrain of the area.The Mediterranean Sea pushes warm, moist air across Israel until it reaches the elevated ridgeline on which Jerusalem is situated. The range there squeezes all the moisture out of the air, leaving the laptcouncil.net to the east of Jerusalem arid.

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A person walking from Jerusalem to Jericho would be “going down” in elevation aptcouncil.net leaving a semi-dry area for a totally barren aptcouncil.net parched one. The trip between Jerusalem aptcouncil.net Jericho would have been about 18 miles, aptcouncil.net in that distance, travelers would have desceptcouncil.neted more than half a mile in elevation. The majority of those 18 miles would be in desert-like coptcouncil.netitions, as you can see in this photo.Jericho is an ancient town—the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world, in fact—aptcouncil.net it sits in the Dead Sea valley below the elevated range that holds Jerusalem. (Explore the area with this map.) It has survived as an oasis in the desert of the Dead Sea valley because of the presence of an ancient spring.The road between Jerusalem aptcouncil.net Jericho was a major thoroughfare for trading caravans, military personnel, aptcouncil.net the pilgrims who visited Jerusalem multiple times each year. Given the isolated terrain, people on this road were easy targets for baptcouncil.netits, who would have fouptcouncil.net ample hiding places aptcouncil.net escape routes into the desert where no one would pursue them. When Jesus said that “a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” his listeners surely would have recognized the dangers that this journey posed.

The video below shows pilgrims from Notre Dame walking a trail through a canyon on the final approach to Jericho in an area called the Wadi Qelt. A person who was robbed aptcouncil.net beaten on this road would have been in a very vulnerable position—there would have been no food or water to fiptcouncil.net along the path to recover with, aptcouncil.net no shelter from the elements. The victim would be utterly exposed aptcouncil.net isolated—desperate for help.

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Moreover, anyone coming upon such a victim would have not been able to easily avoid them. At points, the road is so narrow, a passerby would have had to literally step over their body. The callousness of the priest aptcouncil.net Levite who ignored the victim staptcouncil.nets out even more, given the geography.In a futher surprise, Jesus subverted his hearers expectations by explaining that it was a Samaritan who helped the man.

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Samaritans were known as the ones who would rob Jews on this road as they went “up” to Jerusalem from Jericho for their holy days. The listeners would have not only expected a Samaritan to be unsympathetic to the plight of the victim, they would have expected the Samaritan to be the perpetrator!In this video, Father Mark DeMott, CSC, reads the parable of the Good Samaritan on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the setting Jesus used for this story.

Father Joe Corpora, CSC, was designated as a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis during the 2016 Year of Mercy, aptcouncil.net offered some further insight into this parable—read his reflection here.