University Congregational Church
July 23, 2018
“Re-Imagine the World: Samaritan Parable”
What’s your favorite hero story? It might be from a fairy tale, a movie, a comic strip, or real life. Typically, a hero is one who unselfishly helps others. Two of the most important tales in the western tradition are hero stories:
• The Iliad is about the Greek hero Achilles and his eventually slaying of the Trojan hero Hector.
• The Odyssey takes its name from its hero, Odysseus, and tells the tale of his struggles to return home after the Trojan War and reclaim his kingdom.
CNN does a series of hero stories each year. They choose 10 heroes from around the globe to highlight. Each honoree receives $50,000. One that captured my attention recently was Richard Nares. He lost his son, Emilio, to cancer in 2000, and later started a program called “Ride With Emilio” to provide transportation for low-income families and their children battling cancer. “No child should miss their cancer treatment due to lack of transportation,” Nares says.
Nares knows firsthand what these families are going through. In March 1998, his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer, thrusting the family into a world of constant treatments, hospital visits and tests. Fortunately, he and his wife had a large support system, flexible jobs and understanding employers.
But Nares met many families along the way who didn’t have such support: single moms forced to take leave from jobs without pay, kids having to ride the bus alone to their chemotherapy appointments, siblings left home alone. Nares said it broke his heart.
When Emilio died, his father decided he had watched too many people struggle. He went back to Rady Children’s Hospital, where Emilio had received most of his treatment, and asked how he could help. “Transportation,” they said. So Nares started picking up families in his old Buick. “I was going every day, picking up families all over the county,” he said.
Soon, however, Nares couldn’t handle the number of requests that were coming in. So he teamed up with nurses and social workers from Rady to create a formal transportation program. He hired a driver, formalized a schedule for pickups and drop-offs and started the Emilio Nares Foundation in 2003.
Today, Nares’ group provides more than 2,500 rides a year, traveling more than 70,000 miles. It operates out of Rady and Orange County Children’s Hospital.
In addition to the free rides, Nares’ nonprofit provides support services and assistance to its clientele, many of whom do not speak English. Nares’ group offers translation services and an on-site resource center at Rady to help them navigate the often-complex insurance systems, legal issues and medical diagnoses. Cnn.com
The ancient world enjoyed hero stories too. Probably the best known is the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. It has had such an impact over the centuries that the word Samaritan has special recognition in our modern world. We give Samaritan awards to people who are good to their neighbors… and hospitals around the world are even named “Good Samaritan”.
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
One of the attractions of the Samaritan is that he is an everyday hero, not someone like Achilles or Odysseus, but someone like us. This is the only parable from Jesus that takes place in a specific place – the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Most parables are set in a generic place – a filed, a house, etc. Another unique feature of this parable is that the characters have details associated with them: a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan.
The priest and the Levite (members of the religious elite) pass by the man in need. A first century Jewish audience now knows what is going to happen next. The third character will obviously be one of them – an Israelite. This is an expected triad: priest, Levite and Israelite. It would be similar to our modern jokes that say, “A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walk into a bar…”
But Jesus doesn’t go the normal direction. He throws a complete surprise character into the story. Instead of the predictable three characters, Jesus substitutes a Samaritan into this story. It would be like saying, “A rabbi, a priest, and a Pollock walk into a bar.” The third person doesn’t fit the story.
Hostility between Jews and Samaritans is well documented in the first century. Samaritans and Jews and Samaritans had a bitter history of racial and religious hatred. They had nothing to do with each other. Jews and Samaritans were enemies. In fact, not only would the injured man not expect any help out of one of these despicable Samaritans, he probably wouldn’t want any help from a Samaritan. A Samaritan was viewed, well, like a member of ISIS.
Jesus picked a despised and rejected individual to serve as the third person in the story. As usual in a hero story, the first two characters’ actions mirror one another. The priest was going down the road and saw the man in the ditch and passed by on the other side. The next person, a Levite, was going down the road saw the man in the ditch and passed by on the other side. The audience expects that the Samaritan will behave in at least a similar fashion when he sees the man in the ditch, if not worse.
But Jesus pops out of the expected rhythm of this story again and claims that the Samaritan had compassion. The Greek for compassion here refers to the entrails – deep within the body – the seat of his emotions. This is not just a passing “felt sorry for”. This kind of compassion came from a deep emotional connection. At this point, even though we are in the middle of the story, it is for all practical purposes, over. The Samaritan’s compassion ends the story. There is no other hero expected to come down the road and offer help. No Israelite is going to step into the role of hero.
Brandon Scott, the author of our series “Re-Imagine the World”, believes that the continuation of the story allows a hearer time to adjust to this shocking turn…. Because this parable announces that the savior is a Samaritan – a hated person. And this is exactly the point of re-imagining our world. This parable proposes a new world in which the walls between us and them no longer exist.
That sounds idyllic, right? It almost sounds like utopia. For progressives, this is music to our ears – or so we think. But let’s take it to the next step. The outsider, the hated one, the group even we struggle to accept… this is the one who saves us. What would that look like?
• You have a heart attack and wake up to find that the cardiologist who worked on you was someone from the Middle East.
• You are a diehard KU fan at a particularly cold football game and accidently spill a huge drink all over yourself. But a Mizzou Tshirt vendor rushes over with a new, dry shirt for you.
• Something happens to our beautiful building here at UCC and a church down the street that believes so much that we do not offers us space in their building to worship.
• A co-worker who seems to take every opportunity available to get on your nerves offers to take a layoff and your job is spared.
• You need a new kidney, and the best match is a brother with whom you haven’t spoken for years.
Imagine a world in which the wall between us and them no longer exists. Imagine a world where one of them can come to the aid of us. Perhaps that is exactly what the parable of the Good Samaritan proposes. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said that “the last will become first and the first will become last.” Maybe this parable doesn’t ask us to do good things – or even to be heroes. Maybe this parable isn’t about teaching compassion. Instead, it asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of the wounded man in a ditch. And then to be vulnerable enough to experience the compassion of our enemy.
Scott, Bernard Brandon. “Re-Imagine the World”. Polebridge Press. 2001.