Political Jesus: The Parable Teller
Rev. April S Blaine, Given on January 12, 2014
Today, we continue our series on the Political Jesus. Last week, we talked about Jesus as an agitator.
We continue to explore the ways that Jesus was political by looking at him as a Parable Teller.
The Parable was a traditional way of story-telling that would have been familiar in Jewish culture. Parables always had an instructive lesson or principle and unlike fables which often featured animals or mythical creatures. Parables always involved human characters at the center of the story.
And Jesus in particular seems to use parables in his teaching. Sometimes he would just start his teaching with a parable, but often – the parable would come because of a question or a request or a comment coming from the crowd.
And so – for Jesus - parables are a way that Jesus taught to help shift the conversation and help people to see the hidden and the strange. (it helped people to “get it”) And part of what is so helpful about a parable is that Parables demand that the person interpret them. Not simply take and regurgitate the information.
This was my goal as a teacher – and this was the goal of a rabbi. How many folks ever had to quickly memorize something obscure for a test? How many instead worked on a project where you had to interpret or create something for yourself? Which one would be more likely to stay with you?
This seemed intentional too – because the ideas that Jesus was espousing – the teachings he was making were intended to uproot and redirect the people. It required their participation and interpretation. It was essential that they take out their ideas and examine them again. Because in the end – it wasn’t just about changing people’s ideas alone – it was about helping that to connect to changes in actions.
And so today’s parable – actually begins because Jesus is prompted with a question.
Jesus is approached by a lawyer - What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus turns the question back around to the man – suspecting that he largely knows the answer. It turns out that he does – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, says Jesus. Do this and you shall live.
But there is obviously more to the intention of the question coming from the lawyer – for he follows it up –
WHO is my neighbor?
Re’a – the Hebrew word in the Old Testament for Neighbor – Lev 19 says that you are obliged to show LOVE To a neighbor. It could have been translated as Friend or Fellow Citizen. Someone who belonged to the Jewish community. You were commanded to love and not to hate - your brother, to your own people.
Like most societies, first century Judaism was ordered by boundaries with specific rules regarding how Jews should treat Gentiles or Samaritans, how priests should relate to Israelites, how men should treat women, and so on. Because the boundaries allowed for certain groups to establish their positions, power, and privilege, maintaining the boundaries was vital to social order.”
But Jesus’ teaching have begun to push the envelope – begun to suggest that the idea of neighbor is bigger than just those within the Jewish community.
Perhaps this was the reason for the young man’s question.
This parable itself uses a particular form to radically challenge social convention. The use of 3 different people The first two people that came were the priest, then the Levite. Now, both of these individuals would have been associated with the religious Jewish life. And both of them pass by on the other side of the road. And so, by the time the third person comes along, people are expecting that they will break the pattern. That they will stop. And the crowd was probably expecting the third person to be a humble, common Israelite – perhaps a poor man.
But in a shocking turn of events – the third person is a Samaritan.
Samaritans were descendants of a mixed population occupying the land following the conquest by Assyria in 722 BCE. They opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and so they constructed their own place of worship on Mt Gerizim. They were considered ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic.
And yet – this was the man who stopped, who cared for the person in need, who bandaged his wounds. Jesus rephrases the parable at the end – to ask the question – Who was it that was the neighbor?
The lawyer – can’t even bring himself to say the name – the Samaritan – but with a prophetic edge to his words – says “the one who showed mercy.”
Go – says Jesus GO and do likewise.
There is a temptation when we hear the story to immediately place ourselves in the position of the Samaritan. To think – what a great story for “those people” who are too good to help people. What a great story for those people who think they are better.
I, of course, would have stopped. I, of course, would have helped.
And the truth is – many of you probably would have –
But if we stop there – we miss the point of what Jesus is really asking the young lawyer – Are you willing to cross boundaries to REALLY be a neighbor? Are you willing to be uncomfortable to REALLY be a neighbor? Are you willing to cross the social barriers that exist – to face embarrassment of yourself and your family – to REALLY be a neighbor?
It was the Samaritans willingness to CROSS the boundaries, to take the risks, to stop what he had planned to do – and to give resources, energy, wages, and time – to someone in need.
The Boundaries were hard to cross – Too hard to cross for the priest and the Levite
Throughout history, the crossing of boundaries in places of compassion has had political implications. When white, middle class leaders in the civil rights movement began marching alongside their African-American brothers and sisters – it had political implications. When parents of gay children come out in support to their communities – it has political implications.
For decades, the courageous people who fell in love and married across color lines, across ethnic lines, and across religious lines – the collective impact of these choices has had political implications.
When clergy across the country began to perform same-sex marriages even though the Book of Discipline forbade it – there have been political implications.
And when a male student at OSU posts hateful comments about the appearance of a Sikh young woman on campus and then she reaches out across social media to show mercy and kindness to this same young man– it has political implications.
And truthfully, I think of this place. I think of the choice that each of you made this morning and the choice some of you have been making many mornings for many years – to come to this place. There are a lot of churches in this city where you could go and where you might likely feel more comfortable. We do not come from the same places and experiences. And we are sometimes PAINFULLY different. But the relationships that are building and the community we are becoming – it will have political implications.
So, I don’t think Jesus wants us to hear this parable and only think of the ways we are the Samaritan –
To be honest about where we are the priest and the Levite. Where the boundaries between us and someone else are too great for us to imagine reaching across the aisle and actually building a connection.
And where there is potential for us to change.