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Parables From the Underside | 2023 Lenten study week three

By: Rev. Dan Bader, Southwest District Superintendent, Dakotas UMC

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Grace and peace, as we continue leaning into our conversation of the book: Luke: Jesus and the Outsiders, Outcasts and Outlaws, I recall how as a young boy sitting in Sunday School, how the simple telling of a parable for me would come to life as Mrs. McDonald, or one of my other teachers, would bring out the flannel board. As they read the story and the cut-out images were placed on the flannel board, I found myself not only hearing words but considered how that story began to make sense to me, to the world I was living in, to my life.  These ancient parables are real and have meaning for me, for us, and the truth within the message is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.  

One of those parables and flannel board stories that stuck out for me, dealt with the event that happened on the road to Jericho. The story had us think about how we are living into the very question that the legal experts, those that one assumed would be in the know, and seemingly had the answers for, really missed the mark. Adam Hamilton writes, the parable that Jesus told, “Often contrasted the life and heart that God intended with the life and heart of those who fail to ‘get it’ – who fail to do God’s will.” 

So, from Luke 10:25-37 we hear what lead up to and then includes the parable about the road to Jericho.  

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” 

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” 

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” 

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death.  Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.  Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.  A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.  The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’  What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” 

Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

After the story was over Mrs. McDonald repeated the question, “So which was the neighbor?”  To which in my snarky way, I chimed in with something to the effect of, “Well it sure wasn’t the priest or the Levite.”   

In the midst of our participating in the parables we are often challenged to consider which character within the story do we relate to or identify with. If we really think about it our response to a parable often is, or at least we hope it to be in line with what we see as being at the heart of God.  And yet Hamilton suggests that we should take a much deeper look at ourselves in relation to these stories, these parables by asking, in what ways am I like each of the characters or each of the objects in the parable?  

When we do that, we can’t take the easy road and only find ourselves identifying with outsider, the outcast or the outlaw, those that are included as a part of whom God is reaching out to, wanting to lift up, and to assure that the message of hope, promise, belonging, life, grace, forgiveness, love is meant for them.  

Rather, when we check ourselves in relationship to all the other characters, what we might discover is that there are times when it’s not the Am Ha-Arez, those who are seen as the uncouth, the bumpkins of society, the unrefined, those who we today might see as unclean because, the color of their skin, their political stances, their lifestyle, their theology, their relationship with God and others may not mesh with our way of thinking, or living. What we may truly discover is that we are the ones who easily miss the mark and fail at doing God’s will of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   

On South Dakota Highway 14, somewhere between St. Lawrence and Wessington, South Dakota, on the north side of the road you might find this image, if it is still there. Someone who painted a large target on a sheet of plywood and stuck in the ground is a large arrow made from a pole. The arrow had not hit the target. Every time I would drive past that image, I am reminded that it is important to take a true look into our own heart, into our own life and ask ourselves do my actions, my words, my thoughts, reflect the life and heart that God intended, one which reflects Christ to all, to those who may feel, have experienced being the outsider, the outcast, the outlaw. Or, have I failed to get it, to understand, to truly be a participant in God’s will for all people.   

The truth is even with our eyes wide open, we can be blind to others and to ourselves. A concern that Hamilton raises and that I want to leave with you to ponder, to pray over, and to ask, is the Pharisee in us killing the church by driving others away from the Christ we proclaim? The Christ who recognizes, reaches out to, welcomes all as beloved?   


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