As I descended down the 587 steps from the city center of Fira in Santorini, Greece, I became aware of the vulnerability of the man who was abandoned at the side of the road in the Good Samaritan story. On the path was me, a few other tourists, and some donkeys, which take people up and down if you are willing to pay. One donkey took a liking to my OU jacket tied around my waist, broke free from his caretakers, and headed down the hill after me, heeing and hawing the whole way. I kept moving, his caretakers yelling at him, but to no avail. We turned and turned down the windy path, him bumping and shoving me.
As I continued my descent I thought, “What am I going to do if this donkey decides he REALLY likes my OU jacket and forcibly takes it, pushing me off the path? Really? Who from my group knows where I am? And who will assist me? Friend or foe? Where is his owner btw?”
I was praying for a good Samaritan, or at least a donkey expert.
Did you know that Jesus’ parables were not unique? Jesus was just telling the same stories that other rabbis at the time were telling.
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 are still talking about his parables is 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 on a donkey 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! I do wonder if that donkey found his way back into everyone’s good graces though too.
P.S. I will post a video of these donkeys I took in Santorini on FB, Instagram, and Twitter. Check it out. Hysterics!