A Parable For The Ages
This weekend our Gospel presents to us one of the most beloved of all the parables of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan. A couple of preliminary thoughts.
Our Gospels were born in another age and in another culture. Think of every public exchange between two people, especially between two men, as more of a sword fight than a simple conversation. Words spoken in public always provided the opportunity for someone to grow in honor or to be shamed. So when you listen to someone ask a question of Jesus it is never just a question. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” “And who is my neighbor?” These seemingly innocent questions don’t simply seek information, they were spoken to Jesus to challenge him. If the questioner can make Jesus look like a fool, the questioner grows in honor. If Jesus responds in an honorable way, it can be a source of shame for the one who so foolishly asked a question. Pay attention then to the questions and who is asking them!
Secondly, it is always helpful to think about the medium which Jesus uses to teach. Those partial to language arts and philosophy may be familiar with this ancient piece of wisdom. The narrative goes like this. Truth was walking out of a little village one day and encountered Miss Story! Exuding cheer and joy, Miss Story approached Truth and asked him why his face was so downcast. Truth replied: “Well it is easy for you to go anywhere. Everyone loves you. They gather around and listen to what you have to say. But wherever I go, people run away and hide.” “Well” Miss Story replied to Truth, “have you ever considered your appearance? You know that you are naked? No one likes the naked Truth!” Well as narratives would go, Truth and Story go walking on together and eventually they get married. One of their daughters was something to behold. She was beautiful, charming and people found themselves attracted to her. But sometimes they got more than they bargained for when they hung around her. Her name, by the way, was Parable. There may be more in store for us in this parable than we bargained for!
And so it is that Jesus often pulls us into the world of story only to help us look more clearly at the truth. So consider: love takes risk. Love always looks like a man who found another man lying beside the road. He did not walk by! He stopped. Think of all the things that could have gone wrong at this point alone. The man lying in the road could well have been a decoy. His friends could be lying in wait and as soon as someone stops to help, out they spring and leave the helping stranger for dead and take all of his valuables. Love stops anyway.
Love is messy; love is personal. The Samaritan man “approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.” This is a hands on expression of care. Attending to a body lying in the dirt means you forget a moment about your own appearance. Touching, bandaging pouring oil and wine to cleanse, while on the side of a dirt road isn’t like operating in a sterile environment. The Samaritan could have contracted a disease; his own hands and clothes could be soiled with blood and body fluids. It takes energy and effort to move a lifeless body, clean it and then lift it up onto your own animal. Love doesn’t count the cost; it does what is right; it is never abstract.
Love goes out of its way. The Samaritan was on a journey. He had plans and someplace to be. But he stops, tends to the wounded man, places him on his own animal, and carries him to an inn. How inconvenient to be heading to what might be a very important appointment and have to suddenly give your time to do an honorable act of caring.
Love doesn’t count the cost. The Samaritan uses his own funds to provide care for the man. He not only offers a generous fee, he offers to provide more if it takes more. He doesn’t calculate if he can afford this or if doing this he might not be able to do something else. He does it because it is right; it is honorable and he is more than willing to make the sacrifice.
This story was occasioned by a scholar of the law who was sure he knew the truth about loving God and the neighbor. But like many others who “know what is right” doing what is right requires a personal investment that he was not prepared to make. Every day we also have an opportunity to do the right thing, the loving thing. What excuses do we devise to leave acting on the truth to others? Beware of drawing near to the beauty of a story unless you also want to hear its gift of truth!