It’s funny when I was writing this in my head it was only a few sentences long. And then it grew. And grew.
When I decided to keep at least one foot in the tradition I was raised in, I also realized that I was, honestly, pretty damned ignorant. Doesn't say much for all the years I spent in Sunday School. So, that’s where most of my of my reading has been going, lately. And frankly most of what I’ve been reading doesn’t lend itself to easy blogging.
Anyway, one of the places that reading has led me is here. Who is my neighbor and who deserves my help is a question being asked in every part of this country. And the answer in too many living rooms seems to be “nobody, I’m only responsible for myself, don’t ask me to pay extra taxes or offer any extra help to………because……..fill in the blasted blanks.
When Jesus answered the question of the man of law, “who is my neighbor?” he told story with remarkably few details. A certain man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho along a road known to be dangerous. The man is attacked, beaten, robbed, stripped and left by the side of the road. Of possible passersby, only three are named; a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan.
Why did the first two pass by? Kathleen Norris pointed out in an essay that the priest and the Levite were forbidden by the Law of Moses to have any contact with the dead. And they couldn’t tell for certain if the man was dead or alive without touching him and take the risk of becoming ritually unclean. Apparently the rituals to restore ritual purity were time consuming and possibly expensive. They might have been willing to face that cost for a fellow Jew, but they would have no may of knowing who they were dealing without breaking the law. Unconscious, stripped and wounded; the man could have been Greek, Syrian, Egyptian; heaven knows everybody seems to have passed through that part of the world at one time or another.
Maybe they were just in a hurry. And I can hear a few modern excuses running through their minds. Maybe it’s a trick or a trap. Darn fool, he should have known better than to travel this road by himself. He should have a least been carrying a weapon of some kind. Probably doesn’t belong here in the first place; there’s too many foreigners in the country anyway. It’s not my problem; I have enough troubles of my own to worry about. So, eyes averted, steps quickened, down the road they went. They may have felt bad about it. Who knows; they may have salved their consciences with “it’s a busy road; somebody else will be along before too long.” Although why they thought the possible somebody else would act differently……
Along comes the Samaritan. A member of a people who claimed to have been left behind when most of the population was forced out of the country by the Assyrians. They claimed to be Jews, but had their own ways and their own temple. They weren’t recognized by the Temple establishment in Jerusalem as Jews.
The rest of the story is familiar. The Samaritan cares for the stranger, puts him on his own animal, takes him to an inn and leaves money with the inn keeper with the promise that he’ll make up any differences when he comes back. Either the traveler was very convincing or the inn keeper knew him well enough to trust him for the balance.
Heck I haven't thought of this story in years. I flashed on it while reading a one star review of a favorite film, The Shoes of the Fisherman. Faced with a world brought to the brink of atomic war by famine in communist China the Pope places the wealth of the church as guaranty for aid. That’s not right, said the reviewer. The Chinese should have been forced to renounce communism first. The writer didn’t suggest that the Chinese be required to become Christians, but the implication,in all its Western arrogance, is there.
Honestly, when I first read the review I also imagined trying to explain the sudden population explosion to whoever runs the hereafter after the world explodes into a holocaust. Bad enough explaining the adults; but the children? But, it’s where you risk ending up when you insist that you have a private pipeline to God (whoever He or She is) and you know all the answers.
Anyway when I reread the review after watching the film again this weekend I remembered the parable. I seemed to remember that the story started with “a certain man” and several translations later I was faced with a simple fact. Jesus didn’t say who the man was or what he was doing on that road. Only that he needed help and that when the letter of the law conflicted with the spirit of the law, well get things cleaned up and sort out the details later.
It might be a trap. It might be a sham. You might get fooled. You might get hurt. Or you might just light a little candle to shine in the dark.