Face down in the dust with not even the strength to lift my head, I figured I would be left for dead. Why did God allow this to happen to me?!
It all started when others in my village were excited about a new speaker here, so I went to hear him speak. He taught that we were to head down to Jericho where God was going to start a work of revival and restoration of His Testimony.
Who could argue against that?! Israel was far from the purpose of God. The Prophet's call to a meaningful purpose and godly service struck a chord in my heart.There was a large group that headed out of our village and as we went along we picked up many on the way.
Our call to others was to join the group on our journey to follow God's perfect will. Those who rejected the call were obviously worldly and their questioning of our leader's teaching and motives devilish. Our leader reminded us that we were part of a special group and this made us feel good and able to reject the divisive questions of those who did not join us.
We sang the wonderful psalms of ascension as we journeyed in joy, though we were walking down to Jericho. The nagging questions did bother some as they dropped off from the journey. We rejected them as worthless, for their weakness. God used the journey to get rid of those not really strong in their commitment. God gives grace only to the faithful! To failures come only wilderness wandering, as our Fathers received.
The journey was long and hard, as the Leader held to a rigorous pace, though he was often carried by others himself. This was necessary as he was the leader and needed his strength. We went to villages around to get food for him and others, while his special associates, and himself, were free of this extra burden. The journey now became too difficult for me as I was not only tired, but feeling sick. I was told if I couldn't run with horseman, what would happen in the swellings of Jordon? I was faithful, but it seemed that grace did not come.
One day I fell way behind, and with the other stragglers, was left to perish. Robbers, seeing me stop away from the group, landed on me and stole what little I had left of the money I took with me for the journey. Not content to take what I had, they proceeded to beat the pulp out of me. I lay there, my face in the dust, expecting to not last the day.
As I lay there a priest of God walked by, but was too busy with his journey to offer anything but words. I told him I was following God, fell ill, and then was beaten and robbed. He reminded me of the need to forgive those who have offended me and to not be bitter against them. I told him it was hard not to feel bitter and angry, to which he shared a few verses about forgiveness and left me there. Next a Levite walked by, and seeing me there also continued on his way. I called out to him, but he muttered something about, "Keep looking on the sunny side," as he faded away on the horizon. I could still hear him whistling the tune after I could no longer see him.
The next one to pass my way surprised me for he had come up without me hearing him. He had no words immediately for me, as he quickly came to my side to check my condition. I was in such bad shape I couldn't make out who he was. He treated and bound my wounds and then placed me on his donkey. I could now see that he was a Samaritan.
Samaritans, by definition, were out of the will of God. However, I felt that I could talk to this man. I told him how I had followed the prophet and the rest of the story that led to my being left half dead where he found me. He listened very kindly, and seemed to understand; tears appeared on his cheeks. He told me how he had been like the Levite and the priest in his Samaritan religion, but had recently met a man named Jesus Christ who had changed his heart.
The Samaritan, though deeply committed to his religion, admitted that it hadn't changed his sinful heart and ways. I recognized from this "Samaritan" that he had been following men and groups and that I had been doing the same. I also discovered that while the group was cruel to the individual in it's drive to promote the group goals, this man had discovered what I really needed. I shared of my anger at the prophet and his followers for treating me the way they did and he also confessed that he was no longer welcome in his village as well. He said that his Samaritan village saw him as against God as he tried to share with them the things that he had learned about Jesus. You could tell his anger was restrained by his love of his fellow Samaritans, but that it pained him there was no hiding.
He took me to an inn and paid for my time of rest and recuperation. It was weird not having a day full of exhausting pursuit of the will of God and able to just relax and think. Though I was not doing anything I felt like I had learned the most in my entire life the last few days. I saw how I was fooled by my own ambition, and was not following the will of God in my previous group involvement. The appeal to "be one of God's special one's" led to my demise. I now hungered to meet the Jesus that had transformed the Samaritan, as I wished to have the same loving heart that he expressed. I thought, isn't this the fulfillment of the law and prophets?
I was feeling better now and was eager to seek out this Jesus Christ who had helped me through my encounter with the Samaritan. I asked around the inn for information about him, but the consensus was divided. Regular folks who heard him seemed to be positive and remarked that he had done some notable miracles. A Pharisee told me that he was a false prophet and that his miracles were from the Devil. Due to my past mistakes in following a false leader I was very skeptical of any advice. One thing I knew: the Samaritan was the only one who helped me when I was down and the reason he did was because of his encounter with this Jesus.
In my previous group, they talked of the promised Messiah, but he was to appear only in Jericho, through the work of rebuilding the city. My former leader taught us to see God's Word through his insight and to not trust our own. We also were to see that God would reveal his Messiah through the group. To pursue God as an individual was merely an excuse to do our own thing. The leader reminded us all the tribes in the Wilderness faced the tabernacle where God dwelt.
Now, as I read the prophet Isaiah I came to Chapter 53 and read concerning a suffering Messiah who would die for the sins of His people, wounded for our sins. The passage leapt off the page and hit my heart like a tsunami! The same caring love that the Samaritan showed, but was absent from the others who didn't help me, was described in this passage regarding the Messiah! I set out to find this Jesus. As I traveled I found some of my old friends from my previous group, who had dropped off as I had. I told them my story of how the Samaritan had helped me and of the Messiah Jesus whom I sought. Some had heard enough of following any kind of Messiah. Most, still believed in God, but were totally burned out on the issue.
The most incredible response was from the former member who shared with me that though the group was off a little, it was still a positive experience for us to go through! I asked how that could be, to which he explained that there were some good people in the group and we had shared some good experiences. This person also shared how we had studied the scriptures in a very in- depth manner. This was good, he explained, because it was like our own Torah school.
I asked this former member if he had not seen the many left for dead on the road?! How about those who had become so disheartened that they had become agnostic in regard to their faith?! And, what about the false leader's teaching that led us to a false evaluation of the will of God?! I then shared my own personal meeting with the Samaritan and my discovery of Isaiah 53.
The former member said that he preferred to focus on the positive and warned me that I was giving into bitterness. He shared some Proverbs with me about forgiveness and holding grudges. I asked this brother if he didn't feel like those hurt from their involvement in the group might need some help. His response was to say that they just needed to get over it and to get on with their life; having a big pity party won't help.
After talking with him I felt like I did when I was lying in the dust and was told to keep on the sunny side! I was sure that such an attitude was not the way to healing and recovery. I was still confused though, and had trouble in answering this man. My conscience was tender and I was afraid that I might be too negative regarding my evaluation of the group. This man didn't seem to suffer like I had in the group and he did seem to bring away some positive experiences.
As I continued on my journey to find this Jesus I thought on these things. I felt that the "sunny side man" (as I called him from then on) was missing an opportunity to learn some of the lessons available from our involvement in the group. I also believed that he would not be able to help those hurt in the group. If he wouldn't address the issues hurting people how could he help them? Just dismissing their feelings as "bitterness" would only lead to further shame for these wounded souls. I wondered what the Messiah of Isaiah 53 would say regarding this issue?
I had heard from some that Jesus was speaking nearby and I was going to make sure that I was able to hear Him speak. I could see a crowd gathered ahead and wanted to get up close. When my former false prophet spoke I was adept at forcing my way up to the front of the gathering. People with their families were gathered around, and at first I tried to get through them to the front.
I then thought of the love and care of the Samaritan for me, and how selfish I was acting. It was funny that while in the group I had developed a hardness in my heart toward others. I looked over the group and saw people now, instead of those blocking my way to Jesus. I had been so judgmental and proud in the past. A wave of self disgust spread over me. I found a little knoll over the spot where Jesus was and was content to be at the back. If God wanted me to hear Jesus then he would help me to hear. I noticed that some religious leaders were gathered around Him (I assumed that He was Jesus, as all were gathered around Him). I don't know if it was a miracle, or if my position on the hill provided an advantage, but I could hear every word!
A law teacher asked Jesus how one could inherit eternal life. Jesus responded with a question, "How do you read the scriptures?" The law teacher had a good doctrinal answer, "Love God and your brother and you shall fulfill the law." Jesus commended his answer and said, "Do this and you will live." It seemed to me that the lawyer was trying to trick Jesus into not answering correctly; the body language gave the law teacher away. Jesus, seemed to be also playing a clever game with the questioner.
The lawyer received the correct answer from Jesus, but must of had a twinge of conscience, for he qualified his first question by asking Jesus, "Who is my brother?" I had the same inner check at the correct answer, remembering the very lesson I had learned when first arriving at the gathering. Loving my Brother?! I will never inherit eternal life if is it is based on my doing that!
I felt down cast, but as I lifted my head I noticed that Jesus eyes were fixed on me! I looked behind me to see if Jesus was looking beyond me, but no, I was at the top of the hill and there were none behind me! A loving smile was on his face and I felt as if He knew me and all of my long story of failure! He started to tell a story to the Law teacher and the gathered crowd, but all the time he was looking right at me! It was the story of the Good Samaritan!!! It was my story!!! It didn't have all the details in it, but clearly it was my story. This Jesus knew my story; not just the physical details, but my emotional pain--he knew it! I could see in his eyes as he looked at me and told my story that he felt every hurt as if it was His own. As he spoke I remembered Isaiah 53 again and the suffering and loving Messiah, by whose stripes others would be healed. I now knew that this Jesus was indeed my Savior and loving friend.
The gathering was over and Jesus and His disciples left, and though I was unable to meet Him and talk to Him personally, I had experienced something more intense and personal then a conversation. I carried that experience in my heart and it was as if Jesus continued with me. This one who knew my wounds, was wounded Himself several years later. He was crucified by the Romans after the Jewish religious leaders had insisted he be put to death. I now understood the true meaning of Isaiah 53--that he had died for our salvation. He knew my personal story and used it as an illustration of how to find rest in the true love of God! I have learned so much more now of what that means, of the true grace of God found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In my case it meant a special understanding that Jesus is like the Samaritan and not like all those religious folks that I ran into in my past. Yes, I was a deeply wounded pilgrim, but Jesus is the real and original Wounded Pilgrim! And He is intimately aware of all of our painful past. He understands our anger, bitterness, and disappointments. He wants to be our friend and take all our burden on Himself.
My former group was mostly broken up, when the leader was found to be having immoral relations. Some are still trying to rebuild a new Jericho, thinking that the prophet had some good ideas. I believe that my story has been helpful to some of these, but others don't want to hear it. My prayer is to have the same love the Samaritan showed me and to win my old Jericho friends to understand the grace of God in the Gospel. One thing is for sure: I will never forget the time Jesus told my story!
DEDICATED TO ALL WOUNDED PILGRIMS