Why does a story about a man getting beat half to death by robbers, keep popping up in my head as being a perfect story for Advent and Christmas? The Gospel of Luke records for us the parable that we call the story of the Good Samaritan. We all know that it’s not exactly a feel-good story about a baby in a manger and shepherds on a hill side. There’s no angel choirs or divine annunciations. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a kid’s church Christmas programs that reenact the Good Samaritan story, though the story does have donkeys and inns in it. (I’m sure there are probably plenty of little boys that would love to have a go at reenacting this story though, as the robbers of course).
I know that this story is not traditionally held as Christmas story, but I keep thinking that it in fact might be the perfect story for Advent. (If you haven’t read Luke 10:25-37, now would be a good time.)
This is a story about one man left for dead, and another man giving all he has to bring him back to life, with the promise to richly supply for every future need.
What does that sound like?
The more main stream interpretation of this story presents the Christian as the strong man character who is reminded by Jesus to be hero to the less fortunate and marginalized of society, who have fallen on hard times. I agree that I should love others and help the disadvantaged. But I’m not sure I need the Bible to tell me that. Besides, people who have no faith in Christ do it all the time. And they do it well. Helping others isn’t uniquely Christian.
A second emphasis often made is that this story is about the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving others. But honestly, I’m not sure that this is what Jesus is getting at with His story. First starters, the lawyer’s question about who qualifies as a neighbor is secondary to his question about inheriting eternal life. And then the answer the lawyers gives to Jesus about his take on the Bible’s view that eternal life is a matter of loving God and loving others, are his words, not the words of Christ. (Though Jesus does agree with him.)
Here’s my point. Though this story looks like friendly theological sparring between Jesus and the lawyer, I think this parable is about receiving eternal life. Just like His conversation with the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus never strayed from the subject matter he wished to address. He never strays from the subject matter He wishes to address. The Gospel. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan is a perfect Gospel story. It’s the perfect Advent story. Primarily, because there are so many uncanny parallels between the Samaritan and Jesus Himself.
The typical telling of the story is about how the poor guy fell among the robbers, who left him half dead. The Priest and the Levite, the really bad guys in the story, pass by on the other side and we shouldn’t do that. However, our hero, the Good Samaritan, stops to help.
Moral of the story? Be a Good Samaritan. The typical telling of the story urges us to identify with the Good Samaritan and to identify the broken man as people around us that are less fortunate.
What if we switched the characters around? What if we didn’t make ourselves the strong man in the story, but instead choose the role of the weak? What if we identified with the broken man?
But no one likes to do that. From our earliest days as children, we grow up identifying with the strong characters of life. The desire to be the hero is bred into us. Children play “doctor”. They don’t play “sick patient”. Little boys want to be the heroic soldier. No one plays prisoner of war. Girls are princesses, not handmaids. When I was playing basketball in the driveway as a child, I always made the game winning shot. I never made the game winning assist. I never missed, letting the whole team and community down. I always came out as the hero. I needed to be the hero. It’s just what we do. So, we should not be surprised when we bring that worldview into the Bible. But I don’t think I’m a hero. I don’t think I’m the Good Samaritan. I think Jesus is.
The man broken on the side of the road needed something, someone, anyone to save him. But not anyone would do. It had to be someone who was equipped, qualified and capable of providing the rescue. In this case, it needed to be someone with money, oil and wine, first-aid training, and a donkey. The Priest and the Levite are not presented as having any of these. We could argue all day long as to whether they should or shouldn’t have stopped to help. I don’t think they were able to help. They were helpless and inadequate to meet the need. They were no doubt fine friends when the guy was healthy, but because of their limitations, they were of no use to him when he was beaten half to death.
I think Jesus intends the Jewish audience to identify with the beaten man.
The beaten/broken represents the current human condition. The Priest and the Levite represent the inadequacy and brokenness of the Old Covenant system. The Good Samaritan represents Jesus (the only true Law keeper), as the outcast, bring salvation apart from the Temple system and doing what the Law could never do, by providing scandalous and excessive grace in giving all He had to mend the broken (saving grace) and promising to continue to provide all that is needed to see to the full healing and restoration of the man (sustaining grace).
This is a story about one man left for dead, and another man giving all he has to bring him back to life, with the promise to richly supply for every future need. What does that sound like?
It is my opinion that it is an irreverent (even if unintentional) reduction to minimize the point of this parable down to a moral lesson about feeding and funding the less fortunate. It is intended to be a parable of the human problem and divine solution to that problem.
The broken man needed an Advent. He was rescued by the First Advent of the Samaritan. Then the Samaritan promised a Second Advent. He promised to return to finally set everything right.
Jesus is my Good Samaritan. He has rescued me. At His First Advent, He entered into my world and found me broken and beaten down by my existence in and participation with the sin of this world. He has dressed my wounds, set me on His donkey and taken me to the inn, through His sacrifice on the Cross. He has promised to richly supply all that is needed. He has promised to return.
I might still be wounded and at times sore. I know I’m not all I will be one day. I may still be in the bed, at the inn, waiting for my Good Samaritan to return. But I’m not on the side of the road anymore!
Jesus is my Good Samaritan. Perhaps, this is why a story about a man getting beat half to death by robbers, keeps popping up in my head as being a perfect story for Advent and Christmas.