Help may come from a direction we wouldn’t predict

Jesus’ answer to a testing teacher of the law has me thinking. The story of the good Samaritan has many layers, if one is willing to rough up the telling of the story, short of doing violence to the intention of Jesus’ storytelling.
The characters, save one, are pretty well defined.
All we know about the victim is he is coming down from Jerusalem. From there we can gather that he may be a practicing Jew, coming away from a commemoration at the temple. We aren’t told that, but it’s possible.
The robbers are pretty well self-defined. They are after loot and mayhem.
The priest and Levite are defined just by the terms Jesus uses in the story.
The man who was robbed and beaten is a cipher, though, open for thought, given that the storyteller doesn’t fill in the blanks and expects the listeners to do that.
Perhaps Jesus meant the victim to be cipher for those of us who weren’t present at the telling. It certainly opens up the story for thought. And I’ve been thinking about that parable all week.
There is the surface dimensions of the clergy of that day missing the point of the law they espoused and Jesus making that point rather baldly.
There is the dimension of the idea of a Samaritan following the will of God much more closely than the religious leaders. That had to have raised some hackles.
But, what struck me most just before I sat down to peck these thoughts, is that the cipher that is the man attacked and left for dead begs for further speculation.
Perhaps, a subtext is that help, or salvation, comes from a vector we don’t consider. Perhaps we are to think of ourselves as robbed and beaten, needing assistance.
A scene from the movie Grand Canyon comes to mind. The lawyer’s fancy car craps out in an area that is not a good place for an affluent person to be. A blue-collar tow-truck driver arrives just in time to prevent violence, and a friendship begins through that interaction and societal barriers are breached.
If we put ourselves in the situation of the one beset on a treacherous road (not too far of a stretch, given some of the circumstances in our lives), Jesus’ story carries the possibility that the help we need may very well come from unlikely sources.
Indeed, if we stretch the possibilities far enough, we can look on the person of Jesus, who ate and hobnobbed with tax collectors, prostitutes and other people of that ilk, and who regularly tweaked the noses of the authority figures, as the good Samaritan. After all, his promises carry the hope of healing and ever-lasting care.
But, the package in which the help comes will very likely be in wrappings and trappings that may put us off. If we are a religious person of the present day, perhaps we have no choice but to accept help from a direction that is not, at first blush, religious or connected with familiar religious practices. Indeed, those folks in those religious positions may, in fact, avoid us.
I wonder if, as I find myself in situations of trouble, if I am open to sustaining from directions outside of my familiar realms of thinking.
Jesus’ stories have that effect on me, especially this classic parable. Jesus talked about a topsy-turvy kingdom of God. His life, as told by his disciples in the books they wrote, reflected that. Any time spent reflecting on Jesus’ words and stories are guaranteed to to take a person deeper than sometimes is comfortable to go.
But, once you go there, the territory sticks, I think. And, the story of a reviled person stopping to help, freely giving aid, taking the stricken person to a place of safety, paying the equivalent of two days’ wages for his care and promising to make it right if additional expenses are incurred… That sticks. The images and echoes keep coming around. It’s one of the reasons that parable is so compelling.


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