The Parable of the Wise Innkeeper

Once upon a time, there was an Innkeeper.  Of course, we all know what Innkeepers are supposed to be like: they should be fat and jolly, spending the day laughing and joking with their customers, saying things like “Drinks on the House!” and not being too picky about closing time.  Or else, especially if you’ve watched Les Miserables, they’re mean and stingy, trying to squeeze every last penny out of the unfortunate people who happen to drop in.

Now, our Innkeeper wasn’t like either of those.  He wasn’t particularly fat and jolly, but neither was he all that mean or stingy.  He was just an honest man from a hardworking family, trying to make a living, building up a business that his sons could take over, making things secure for future generations.

This Innkeeper’s inn was in a prime location – and there could be a whole other story about the advantages of a good location, but that’s for another day.  His inn was on the main highway between two cities: Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, and Jericho, an important trading place.  In addition to Jerusalem being the capital, it was also the home of the great Temple, where Jews would go regularly at least three times a year, for the big festivals; and the Innkeeper, being a good Jew, would be one of them – at least, whenever he didn’t need to stay at home to look after his business and make sure the inn was serving the regular stream of pilgrims.

So plenty of people would travel on the highway, and most would at least stop at the inn for some much-needed refreshment.  More than that, the road was wild and rocky, and often bandits would hide in caves and jump down on unsuspecting travellers.  So the road was dangerous, and those who were travelling late and were in the know would at least make sure they got to a safe place well before dark – such as our Innkeeper’s inn; very reasonable rates, considering the conditions of the road and the security the inn provided.

One day, there was one particular traveller who came to the inn.  The Innkeeper recognised him; he had passed that way several times before.  In fact, the Innkeeper was almost sure that he would be able to remember the traveller’s name, although it had just slipped his mind for the moment.  What the Innkeeper did remember, though, was that this traveller wasn’t a Jew; he was from the country of Samaria between Judea and Galilee.  Now most Jews didn’t get on with Samaritans, and the Innkeeper was glad that the Priest and Levite who had just stopped off at the inn for a quick one had gone on their way, otherwise there might have been a bit of a row about purity and uncleanness.  For the Innkeeper was very broad-minded and tolerant; he had no trouble with Samaritans, as long as they paid their way – their money was just as good as anyone else’s.

What made the Innkeeper remember this particular visit, though, was that the Samaritan wasn’t alone, which was unusual.  He had someone with him – someone who looked as if he had fallen foul of those very bandits we were speaking of a few moments ago, for he was still barely conscious and bleeding a bit, even through the bandages wrapped around him, which couldn’t cover up all his bruises.  And this person wasn’t another Samaritan, which was even more surprising: he was a Jew.

The Samaritan asked the Innkeeper if he would take care of this injured man, as he had to travel on and needed his donkey, which the poor unfortunate was currently sprawled across.  The Innkeeper, being a wise and prudent man, was a bit reluctant at first; after all, he was running an inn and not a hospital!  But the Samaritan pulled out two silver coins to pay for the man’s immediate keep; and further, he promised to reimburse the Innkeeper if he incurred any more expenses.  Knowing that the Samaritan was a frequent visitor, so should be back fairly soon, and also that as far as he knew he was an honest man (and if he wasn’t, the Innkeeper knew where he could hire some debt-collectors), the Innkeeper agreed to take good care of the wounded Jew.

So the moral of this story is: follow the example of the wise innkeeper, and never take on any responsibility unless you know that someone else will be paying for it.

However, one day when this story was told, one of the listeners asked, “But what about the Samaritan?  Surely we should follow his example, too?  After all, he was a generous person, helping out someone in need, even though they were from different races.  Wasn’t he a wise and good man?”

Well, good – maybe.  But wise – certainly not.  Consider this: he had already used up some of his own provisions, delayed his journey and possibly missed some business opportunity, and had then handed over money to pay for the man’s welfare and treatment, with absolutely no security, no guarantee of any return.  Not only that, he had entered into an open-ended commitment – and quite freely, too! – to pay whatever else it cost.  Who knew how long the man would need to stay at the inn while recovering, using up a bed, taking food and drink, needing fresh bandages, cleaning materials to wipe up the blood?  What if he needed medical treatment – the nearest doctor was miles away, and his expenses would also have to be paid.

No, it is still the wise Innkeeper who is the hero of the story.  After all, who would want to follow the example of the so-called good Samaritan?

 The Prosperity Bible, the Good (Financial) News according to Luke FRCS, chapter 10

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