Parables are no fun when you know how they turn out. For example everyone knows about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Heck, we all want to be the Good Samaritan. We know we should extend aid to all who need it even to those who despise us. The trouble is few of us do.
If the Parable of the Good Samaritan is purely an example story, it is just a literary flannel board illustration–nice and obvious. But with no subversive power. A parable with no subversive power? Jesus shooting blanks? Maybe not.
I am grateful to one of my New Testament ‘senseis’, John Nolland, for pointing out that this parable is told from the perspective of the victim. The original hearers of the parable would have no problem identifying with the victim. People did get robbed on the Jericho road. Robbed and horribly beaten, everyone realised that the victim would die if he didn’t receive any aid. The listeners of the story could identify with the victim’s desperation.
However, hopes are raised when two potential heroes walk by. That the priest and the levite do not help the dying victim only heightens the fact of his hopeless situation. When all hope is lost, an unlikely hero comes by, a hated Samaritan. At this point the listeners wouldn’t have minded that help comes from this racial-spiritual bastard. They just want the victim to live.
As Nolland reminds us, only when we come to the parable from a position of weakness are we ready to answer the question “who is my neighbour”? Which may be why most of us are still flunking Neighbourly Compassion 101. We think we are ok. We approach this parable from a position of strength. Yea, yea we know there are needs all around us. I’ll extend help when I feel like it. And they better be grateful.
Which such a track record, we shouldn’t be surprised that periodically the Lord allows certain things to happen to us to remind us that we are all victims in the ditch. We all had no hope till our divine enemy reached out in grace and saved us. We continue to live each day by His gracious favour.
It is only in embracing the view from the ditch that we understand the true nature of human need – ours and those of our fellow humanity. We need no reminders that all around us people are dying in ditches. Broken bodies, broken relationships, people dying without God and without hope. Of course we should help. Perhaps our help will be more urgent and less condescending, when we realise that we too were picked up from the ditch.