The Bystander

The Bystander

“You would think as much as the Romans travel this road to do business in Jericho they would make it better and safer. It is truly the Way of Blood,” he grumbled. “If I did not need to go to Jerusalem to sell my spices I would never travel it. Dealing with those heretical Jews is bad enough.” Rehoboam muttered to himself, disregarding a few strange looks from others making the journey to or from Jerusalem.

His fellow travelers were a motley lot. Most of the people were on foot, often driven almost off the mud and rock road by the occasional, mounted Roman or someone with enough money to have a donkey. Although he was named for a king, Rehoboam was far from well to do. He made his living transporting the cheapest of spices from Jericho to Jerusalem once a week, dragging them behind him in a crude, wooden cart.

As he traveled on, he barely looked around him. The trip had already exhausted him. The change in elevation from Jericho to Jerusalem made it an uphill journey with little shade to protect him from the bright sun. No trees. Just scrub brush and in some places it was absolutely desert. While he did not like Jerusalem, at least reaching the Mount of Olives would provide some small relief from the incessant heat and dust of the road.

On he trudged, dragging his cart. It was past the middle of the day and he looked forward to staying at the only inn along the way. It was crowded, noisy, and not too clean, but at least he could rest there and not risk the road at night. Daytime was dangerous enough.

His thoughts were interrupted by noise coming from in front of him. A sharp bend in the road formed by a bank of earth and some scrub brush that grew on its top obscured his view. To go one or stop? Two men suddenly appeared from around the bend running at full speed, their hands full of what appeared to be clothes, one with a sack swinging from his hands. They went off the road and over the bank before they reached him.   Rehoboam had little doubt who they were. Thieves with their booty. He stopped and gave a brief prayer of thanks that they had already robbed someone and were more interested in escaping than a second robbery.

But to go on or wait? Waiting seemed the better idea, so Rehoboam pulled his cart to the side of the road as close to the bank as possible. He pretended to be checking some of the bags it contained. At first, there were fewer people passing him, but after a time, the traffic seemed to be normal. He moved back on the road and went around the bend.

As soon as he did, he saw a horrific sight. There, not quite at the edge of the road, was a man on the ground. A man almost naked, bleeding, and appearing to be unconscious. The traffic simply went around him as though he did not exist. That was Rehoboam’s plan. Walk well to the side, avert the eyes, and move as quickly as possible toward the inn which could not be more than two or three miles ahead. Another traveler, he noticed, had already done so. With that tasseled shawl he was obviously a Jewish priest and from what Rehoboam could tell from the only item of clothing the robbers had left the man, the small cap on his skull, the chances were the unconscious man was probably also a Jew.

Well, if a Jew wouldn’t help another Jew, I don’t need to feel guilty in the least,” he told himself. As he drew nearer the man in the road, the man began to stir and moan. “Not my business. He is not only probably a Jew. If I try to help him the thieves may come back and then what would happen to me? They would love to steal my cart. I am lucky they didn’t when they passed me.

He increased his speed to pass by as quickly as possible only to see another traveler stop and look at the man. White linen clothing. Another Jew. This man also passed by. Rehoboam was almost to the body in the road when a third traveler came riding on a donkey. Rehoboam recognized a fellow Samaritan by the design of the phylactery attached to the donkey’s saddle. Rehoboam was about to pass the wounded man when he and his cart were brought to a half. The Samaritan had stopped, dismounted and he and his donkey were partially blocking this narrow part of the road. Surely he was just curious and wanted a good look at the victim. No self-respecting Samaritan would help a Jew.

Rehoboam was wrong. The fellow Samaritan was dropping his travel sack on the road beside the man and speaking to him. “Don’t be afraid, my brother. I will help you.” The man did not reply, simply groaned.

Rehoboam took a chance, edging as far to the side of the road, shaking his head, he pulled his cart and went as fast as he was able toward the inn, the only public building, in fact one of the few structures along the road. Rehoboam did not like the idea of spending good money and knew he would choose a place on the floor in the public room. He had food with him, so at least he wouldn’t have to pay for that.

He reached the inn, paid his fee, and was glad he arrived a bit early. There was a place near the door in a corner. Tired and thinking about his lucky escape for if the thieves had come on him before the Jew, he would have been that fellow in the road, it was difficult to rest and too early to really sleep.

The room grew more crowded. Rehoboam still found it difficult to sleep. The image of the man in the road kept him awake. “It might have been, probably would have been me if I had traveled faster. The cart would have been a great prize for a thief. A good thing they came upon the Jew.”

The rather fat man who lay next to him rolled over. His leg hit Rehoboam’s and the man cursed and said, “Move over you wretch” If it was not night, I would have continued on rather than lay with louts.”

Rehoboam was angry. “Then why do you take up space, more than your share?”

“I had no choice. The only private room was rented out by some do-gooder. He didn’t even use it for himself. Used it for some fool who managed to get himself robbed and beaten on the road. I heard him tell the innkeeper to take care of the idiot for as long as necessary. Gave good money and said he would return and pay whatever the additional costs were. The innkeeper was a fool too. He believed him.”

Rehoboam moved as far away from the man as possible, not risking to comment on this. He curled up as tightly as he could and tried to sleep. The noise, smell, and movement of the room as well as the heat of tightly packed bodies kept him awake for what seemed an eternity. Finally, his eyes began to close, but instead of the darkness sleep normally brought, behind those closed eyes he saw the man in the road. Only this time, it was not the face of a stranger. It was his face.