December 18, 2007
Fiction, Truth, Reality and all that stuff…
It has been a long day; a lot of walking and talking. Not enough eating if you ask me. These crowds seem to be getting bigger every day especially as the rumors about Jesus have stirred up things. He pays no mind, as if a reputation is nothing of any real value; nothing that required any attention to maintain. So as near I can tell, he has none, but still everyone shows up; as many people as motives.
Me, I tend to stay in the background. Not very fond of the attention we’re getting, so I hang around the fringes; suits me just fine. I’m not one to put myself out there, like some of the others. To be honest, I’m not very brave and not above being disappointed. But here is the strange thing. I don’t know what it is about me, maybe because of my baby face (I’ve never been able to grow a full beard), whatever it is I seem to attract the strange ones. You know the ones, that hang around the fringes of everything that is going on, people who don’t really have the want or nerve to approach Jesus directly. So they seek me out. I actually try and blend in with the crowd, but it usually only works for awhile. I must have this sign on my back that says, "He’s one of them" because sooner or later some guy will sidle up next to me and start asking me questions as if I were some sort of expert on Jesus.
So today, I am sitting down, minding my own business, trying again to figure out where I fit into all this, and sure enough this guy plops himself right down next to me. I close my eyes; pretending to be praying. Perhaps I actually am. Does "Go Away!" qualify as a prayer? Even with my eyes shut I can feel him waiting, silent…ready to pounce. I finally barely open one eye for a sneak peak and he is about a foot away staring right at me. He sees that I am conscious and it’s all the permission he needs. He’s dressed like a Galilean, but you can’t really tell these days. Rumor is the Jesus is a Galilean, and now everybody wants to look like one. This guy is probably a fake Galilean, maybe even from uptown Jerusalem. I am not in a very graceful mood.
"May I ask you a question?" he begins.
I grunt, "Besides that one?" He’s either not impressed by my wit or too dumb to get it, his face remaining impassive. He then glances around a little furtively, as if to make sure that no one is close enough to eavesdrop on our conversation. He scoots even closer and leans my direction. I want to scoot away, but out of rebellion I hold my position.
"So," his voice is hushed and secretive, "Who is he then?"
"Oh, here we go," I think, "another person who wants to ask me questions about Jesus that I can’t answer." I try and be evasive, but I find myself whispering too.
"Who is who? I ask.
He scoots a bit closer. "You know." His face now shows ready anticipation; eyebrows raised and waiting my response.
I return his inquiry with the best ‘I have really no idea what you are talking about’ look and a little shake shrug of my shoulder.
He is perturbed, but only for a moment. He then grins and scoots even closer until I fear he will crawl onto my lap. His breath radiates goat and garlic.
"I get it," he smiles, "you are just playing with me. C’mon, you can tell me." He nods as if to encourage my response.
"Who are you talking about?" I mutter, wishing this man would leave me alone to tend to my sore and dirty feet.
"The good Samaritan, you know, that guy that Jesus just told us about. I want to know who he is. I would like to meet him."
Now I am wide awake. I grin at this man thinking that he is joking, but the intensity of his face communicates that he is dead serious. "You want me to tell you who the good Samaritan is, like…his name?"
"Exactly! I want to go and talk to him. I would like to understand what I can about his journey, anything really that might give me insight into how he got to the place where he could exhibit the kindness and compassion of God like he did."
We sat there for a frozen moment, he looking expectantly at me and me trying to find the right words to let the boy down gently. What I really want to do is laugh and not too quietly either.
"Uh…that story Jesus told you? You know…that…it’s a parable right?
"Of course. That is what everyone is calling it." He pauses, glancing around and then back. "Tell me, what exactly is a parable?"
"It’s a story."
"Oh, like the story of Moses or Abraham or David?"
"Well, no…" I am still searching for the right words. "It isn’t a story like history, but a story, well…that he made up."
It takes only a moment for what I said to register, but I can see the inner realization paint a a furrowed look on his face. "He…made it up? Are you telling me that the story isn’t even true?"
"Yes," I answer, "he made it up. But…" I quickly add, "It is true!" As soon as the words escape my lips I know they will not help.
"So, if it’s true, then who is he… the Samaritan guy in the story?"
"There is no specific Samaritan guy. Jesus made him up. But the story really is true."
He sits back, a look of disappointment clearly visible. "OK, I am confused. You are telling me that the story is true, but Jesus made up the Samaritan guy, the main character…just ‘poof’ made him up?"
"And the Priest…made up too I suppose?" I nod. "And the lawyer." I am nodding still as he continues the litany. "…the bandits, the innkeeper, the kindness…all made up?"
I shrug and he sits back, looking skyward, gesturing with hands upturned. He finally looks back at me. "And the story is true." He states it like an accusation. I nod again.
"Oi, how can it be true? Everything is made up. The Samaritan, the Priest, the robbery…the only thing that is real is the road, cuz I’ve been on it." He is allowing the emotion to build inside. "I must tell you, I am very upset about this. Your Jesus…you are with him right?"
He pauses, and I nod, "Yes, I am one of his students and he is my rabbi."
"Well, your rabbi really had me going. I truly felt what he was saying. I could embrace this man’s pain and I was thrilled at this Samaritan’s actions. You must understand…" he glanced around and leaned closer, "…this ’story’ meant a lot to me personally…you see…" he whispers, "I am a Samaritan." A tear slowly slides down his cheek, his jaw slightly quivering, "And now…" he was fighting the emotions, "…now you are telling me that it isn’t even true."
I was stunned. I had not seen this coming. My sore and dirty feet were no longer a concern for me. Pain and anger and disappointment masked his face and he was looking to me for something, some kind of healing, some explanation that would return some hope.
"But don’t you see? It is true. That’s what a parable does. It uses a story to tell the truth in a way that gets by your training and your defenses. I think you might be confusing facts with truth, thinking that what seems to be ‘real’ should be the same as what is true!"
"Please," he is almost begging. "Help me understand."
’Me?’ I am thinking. I look up, trying to appear to be in deep thought, but I am really looking around to see if Jesus is anywhere nearby. He is not. "Ok, let me see. Well, everything in the story is real, that is, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem is real, there are real bandits on that road, real people including priests, lawyers and lots of us normal people travel that road when we have to, and there are such ‘real’ people as Samaritans." I gesture toward him, but not in any way that would draw attention.
"But this didn’t really happen?"
"Maybe it did. Frankly, I have never thought to ask. But that is not the point of the parable. All the elements are real and this could actually happen. Parables are not as concerned with facts and reality as they are about communicating the truth." He still wasn’t getting it. "Uh…it’s like a joke," I offer.
"This is a joke?" He looks incredulous.
"No, it’s like a joke, you know, there was this rabbi and this priest and a donkey…"
"I’ve heard it…not too funny."
"You’ve heard it? The one where the mother-in-law…"
"Yup, heard it. I didn’t think it was that funny."
"I thought it was hilarious…oh, well, the point is that it doesn’t really matter if the events actually happened or not. We laugh because the joke points to something that we know is true. So, Jesus is telling the parable to open our eyes to something that is much more important than the individual pieces that make up the story. The truth of a story like this parable is much more significant than just the sum of its parts, in fact, Truth belongs to a different realm of existence and significance than facts and reality."
The man had dropped his gaze to the ground between his feet, listening, and suddenly sat straight upright, his eyes dancing.
"I understand! It’s not about the actual elements of the story. It is really about the Truth…that is what truly matters. It is not about me meeting the Good Samaritan, it is about me meeting the Truth."
"Exactly!" And now I am dancing inside and I too understand in a way I had not before. "The kindness of God has no boundaries; not social, not religious, not political. The choices made by the Samaritan are contrary to all the hate and prejudice so much a part of the world we live in."
"In fact," now he jumps in, "the Samaritan was the only truly free man in the story. No one else is free. And Jesus calls him the ‘Good’ Smaritan because he is exhibiting the very life of the only Good One, who we know is only God."
Now the tears are flowing and I am wiping my own off my face.
"You know what this means?" His face is full of light. "It can be me. I can be the Good Samaritan. I can be the one who is free. I don’t have to do what my hurt and pain tell me. It can be me that acts with the goodness of God…me!"
And we embrace, a Jew and a Samaritan. And I am thrilled, but at the same time grieved at my own darkness of heart. For even as we embrace, even as we thrill to the glory of the Truth of what we are sharing, I was still glad that he looked like a Galilean and not a…"