Wednesday, July 07, 2010

half-dead in the ditch (Luke 10:25-37)

I've heard, and told, this lectionary passage from the perspective of the Samaritan. I've heard, and told it, from the viewpoint of the priest and the Levite. I've heard, and told it, from the perspective of the crowd listening in on the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer. I've heard it, but never told it, from the perspective of the lawyer.

But what still intrigues me is the traveler found half-dead in the ditch. Other than having the snot beat out of him, we aren't told much about him, are we? He probably was a Jew, but he could just have easily been a Samaritan, a Roman, an Edomite, anybody.  I doubt if the robbers back then were any more discriminating in choosing victims than they are today. Though he probably may have been wealthy, you can get mugged for 10 buck as you can a thousand. 

But what happened to him after he was all better, after he was back on his feet, after he went home and told the family and neighbors what had happened to him?  Was he changed, was he transformed?  Was he no longer prejudiced towards Samaritans, Romans, whoever?  Did he become a better person, more generous, more holy? We don't know, do we? Which is true with so many parables Jesus tells us, so many of the encounters he has with people. Go and do likewise, he says.  Did anyone Jesus said that sort of thing really go and do?

One of my favorite illustrations from the marvelous TV show The West Wing had to do with young Josh Lyman dealing with the emotional/spiritual (?) aftereffects of being shot. His boss, Leo McGarry, wants to help him and so Leo tells Josh the following story:

A guy was walking along the street and fell into a hole. He tried climbing out but couldn't get up the sides, the walls are so steep. A doctor walks by and the fellow yells up, "Hey, Doc. I'm down here in this hole. Can you help me out?"  The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down to him. Later, a priest walks by and the fellow hollers, 'Hey, Father, can you give me a hand?' But the priest just writes out a prayer and tosses it down to him. Later, a friend walks by, and the guy hollers up, 'Hey, Joe, it's me; can you help me out?" The friend jumps in. The guy looks at him, "Are you crazy?  Now, we're both down here!" The friend says, 'Yeah. But I've been down here before and I know the way out."

More and more, I see this a story, not about the generosity of the Samaritan, or how he was changed/transformed. And I don't think it is a jab at the strict adherents to the Law. I think it is the story about the guy half-dead in the ditch. And the reason that this despised, rejected, hated Samaritan could help him is that he had been down in the ditch himself, and he knew the way out.

And because Jesus was willing to become despised and rejected for our sakes, because he was willing to be thrown into death's ditch, only for God to provide a way out, then he is telling us that when the time comes, when we find ourselves lying in the ditch, when we are half-dead, when all the experts, the lawyers, the doctors, the priests can't help us, then he will come along and show us the way out.  He will pick us up and carry us to the place where we can be mended and made well.

(c) 2010  Thom M. Shuman