Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, September, 2008)

The Tao Te Ching, the founding book of Taoism, contains detailed advice on how to live in harmony with a universe that has strict rules. If you don't follow them, you'll be frustrated and unhappy. Yet, I read somewhere that many Asian Taoists read the book for secret magic spells to control the universe to their wishes. What does that have to do with this song? It shows how fairly clear religious messages can change to conform to beliefs that are more compatible with human desires.

Several places in the New Testament stress the importance of agape (I Corinthians 13), the generous and selfless love for one's neighbor, as exhibited by, for example, giving money to the poor (Luke 12). In Luke 10, a lawyer (of course!) asks Jesus who, exactly, is the neighbor we must love. The answer, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, is one of the best-known bible stories. The message is clear: even our enemies are neighbors; you can't always count on professionals for help; and we should all behave like the Good Samaritan.

But this ideal collided with a very human need for enemies. In earliest Christian times, the enemy was the Roman Empire. With the Reformation, the protestant's enemy was again Rome, this time in the form of the Catholic Church. Along the way, the definition of "neighbor" became narrower and narrower, until the Christian ideal of agape became coexistent with the idea that (to quote the blues trio Koerner, Ray & Glover), "our group motto is 'every man for himself'," and charity became less important than converting non-believers.

This month's song, recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in 1925, was first published as The Good Samaritan, written by the Presbyterian Rev. W.M. Robison of Tennessee in 1891. The first 4 verses clearly tell the story, but the Calvinist kicker is the last verse: all are sinners; Jesus, not I, is the Samaritan; and the fallen need only be converted in order to be healed.


Complete Lyrics:
1. From Jerusalem to Jericho, along that lonely road,
A certain man was set upon and robbed of all his gold.
They beat him and they stripped him, and they left him there for dead.
Who was it then that come along and bathed the aching head?

Then who (then who), tell me who (tell me who),
Tell me who was this neighbor kind and true?
From Jerusalem to Jericho we're traveling every day,
And many are the fallen ones that lie along the way.

2. From Jerusalem to Jericho, a certain priest come by,
He heard the poor man crying, but he heeded not the cry.
He gathered his robes about him and he quickly passed away.
Who was it then that come along and ministered that day?

3. From Jerusalem to Jericho, a Levite came along,
He heard the poor man crying, that lie upon the ground.
He lifted his hands up to the heavens and he quickly passed him by.
Who was it then that came along and heeded that needy cry?

4. From Jerusalem to Jericho, when life was ebbing away,
Along come that Samaritan who was despised, they say.
He ministered to the dying man, he carried him to an inn.
He paid his fare and told the host to take good care of him.

5. From Jerusalem to Jericho, a-traveling every day,
And many are the fallen ones that lie along the way.
Oh, some despised and some rejected, but it's no matter how they've been,
When everybody turns you down, then Jesus takes you in.

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