Who is the hero of the story?
For years I had defined my faith in a series of propositions and clever systematic conclusions. This was the meaning and answer behind everything I did. That was until I actually encountered the living Christ! Seriously, there were tears, laughter and an intense sense of wonder overflowing from my being all at once. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. In one swoop, the cleverness of my former version of “Xianity” could not compete. For I realized very quickly that the rest of my life had to upgrade in order to keep up with where this thing was headed. What I found was that the most robust version of Kingdom life that Jesus laid out in the gospels was this: Humanity and God live according to a narrative. If we are honest, we all do. This would explain why some are more cynical or joyful than others. If life was lived by “reason” alone, there would be no need for compassion, joy or meaning. Life would simply be one big math problem. Thanks to the enlightenment, man has been lying to himself ever since, ascribing the purest form of reason to a type of mathematics. And it has left us feeling calculated and cold!
Man became the hero of his own story right around the 18th century, but that is all changing. Honestly, how many super-hero movies come out by the minute? We all live according to a story, and the Good News can be simply stated like this: God has a story, and He wants us all to be a part of it. Do not be afraid because this story can and will not only transform your life, but also bring life to all of those around you.
What people need, stated Illich, is an alternative story.
The generation before mine were the activists. But there is something far deeper happening in the 21st century. Something much simpler and more devastating to complex initiatives which do not immediately bring life to us anymore. We are learning to meet complexity with some far simpler: the Kingdom of God.
“What do you mean, Jon?!”
Society as a whole is returning to more primal concerns like death, eternity, sex and meaning in general. New questions have arisen and I do believe it is the most exciting time to be alive. Yes, I am telling you…it is the BEST time to be consuming oxygen. When philosopher Ivan Illich was asked to choose between the possibility of a violent revolution or a more peaceful gradual change in society, he chose neither as effective. What people need, stated Illich, is an alternative story.
What about the story of the Good Samaritan?
When Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor?” He told a story.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” -Luke 10:25-37
Jesus did not respond by saying the Samaritan is his neighbor, which is already an incredibly radical thing to insinuate considering that Jews hated Samaritans. No, Jesus responds by describing a story in which the choice to love is not contingent upon anything except this one simple truth: a heart that is open to God is a heart that is open to others. True “goodness” as Jesus defines it, is more than knowing who is in and who is out in your community. True goodness is associated with the one who is willing to show mercy, no matter the outcome or the cultural implications. Mercy transcends sectarian division and has the capacity to open up the heart of any person. Indeed, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
This story subverts common assumptions, which was that the truly religious person is on a mission to go from event to event, predicting which experiences are worthy of attention. None of the scholars had time to stop for the man because their value system only including things and people deemed important to the agenda. The hero is willing to stop for the one. He is willing to put aside his personal agenda and make the greatest sacrifice in order to bring about the greatest good. Invoking the Kingdom of God in the action of the hero, restores the dignity of the victim. This is what Jesus always did. By bringing healing, it was never just for a testimony during the Sunday morning service. Those who were brought under the healing of Christ were always re-socialized, given a restoration in dignity.
I believe Jesus put the Samaritan as the hero, not the Jew, precisely because the Jew (in the context of Jesus’ time) may feel obligated to help the struggling man in the ditch, but the one who, as a free moral agent, chooses to create a space of unconditional love and acceptance in mercy, triumphs.
Do not be afraid and do likewise, restoring self-worth to the one we come across.