Did you know that Jesus’ parables are not unique? Jesus was just telling the same well-known stories that other rabbis at the time were telling at the time. What characterized his parables was that he was changing the ending – ending them funny. I had a Jewish professor in Israel who said that Jesus wasn’t necessarily ending the stories “wrong”, but more accurately that people of the time perceived that all of Jesus’ stories ended “wrong”. He argued that the reason we were still talking about his parables was this precise point. Jesus kept mixing up the well-known, expected, “correct” endings, and in doing so was reinterpreting how the law was supposed to be used. He was, according to my Jewish professor, one of the great rabbis of the time, seen in his stories alone!
The parable of the Good Samaritan is an excellent example of this. The man at the side of the road, who had been stripped and beaten…he is passed by a priest, and then a Levite. Each comes to him and passes by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan comes by, and moved with pity, bandages his wounds and cares for him.
So who did right? Well naturally the first two!!!! By passing by on the other side, they were remaining ritually pure for Temple worship. Both were heading to Jerusalem, not to pray, but to lead in worship. So the people in that day would have had this thought in their mind: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
Jesus shocks the crowd when he changes the typical ending around. He states that the third person did right. The Samaritan. Perhaps there were people in the crowd scratching their heads. “Wait a minute,” they might have been thinking, “we’ve heard this story before and that’s not how it ends!” Or, “This poor stupid Samaritan aces himself out of worship by doing this act. He becomes ritually unclean and has to remain outside of the community for 30 days for this daring feat of helping one person. What an idiot!”
Jesus says “No, think again!”
When the lawyer answers Jesus’ question of “Who did right?” by saying “The one who showed mercy,” Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Those of us who know the Jesus’ story, know that it is not just his parables that “end wrong.” Our entire story has a wacky ending. Our King doesn’t ride triumphantly into Jerusalem and lead an army to destroy the Romans, as everyone hoped the Messiah would. Instead, he rides into Jerusalem, gets himself arrested, gets crucified, and dies on a cross.
Oh wait, that is not how our story ends. Jesus shocks the crowd again. Instead he shows mercy to the crowd, and dies on their behalf, conquers sin and death, and on the third day rises again.
I am starting to like these wacky endings!
If you are interested in hearing more about the modern day Samaritans and Israel today, check out my final class on Jesus and the Land this Sunday: http://www.fpcokc.org/israel-class