One of my Jewish professors at the Hebrew University helped me think about Jesus’ parables in a whole new way. He explained to the whole class something I had never heard before: “Jesus’ stories are nothing new. These were the same old recycled stories that all the rabbis of the time were telling. What made Jesus’ parables unique – and what made him a GREAT rabbi – was that Jesus kept changing the endings!”
No doubt, some of the time thought that Jesus ended his stories WRONG. My professor, a great rabbi himself, thought that Jesus’ parables were breathtakingly insightful and showed a command of scripture not seen until that day.
Jesus’ parables had a unique twist – a surprising ending – that shook people up. And this is what made him a great teacher.
Take the parable of the Good Samaritan, for instance. 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!!!!” would the socially accepted response at the time. 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.” This would have been the expected ending.
Jesus shocks the crowd when he changes the end of the story, stating the third person did right: the Samaritan. Perhaps there were people in the crowd scratching their heads. Maybe there was even a gasp. “OMG! Jesus forgot the ending! Oh wait….” Or “Jesus, come on, 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! And now Jesus is saying he did RIGHT? What is going on here!?”
Jesus says no to the traditional interpretation..
When the lawyer answers Jesus’ question of “Who did right?” by saying “The one who showed mercy,” Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” I can almost hear a murmur in the crowd – “Idiot, lawyer doesn’t know this one.” And then a gasp when Jesus agrees.
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!