Can the Good Samaritan Save Christianity?
Ecumenism seeks to restore wholeness to the family Jesus’ followers, a family that appears to be divided over issues of doctrine. For me the Kin-dom is founded upon the personal spiritual experience of recognising the Fatherhood of God and its correlated truth the Brotherhood of Man or, simpler, your personal experience of the love of God and your love for God. The foundation of the identity of the followers of Jesus is the personal experience of the love for and faith in the Father as reveal in the life and teachings of the Son and not upon the assertion of provisional assent to some system of dogmas or doctrines. Such an experience may inspire dogma, doctrine, art, prayer, worship, service, etc. but these are consequences not causes, they are the shadows not the substance. Any attempt to use shadows as a foundation is doomed to failure.
So, how can the Good Samaritan help? Can he carry us out of the darkness of the shadows of mere belief (provisional assent) and into the healing hostel of the personal experience of spiritual truth and divine realities? Tall order, I know, but let’s see.
It’s hard for us to appreciate the audacity of Jesus in making a Samaritan the hero in a story being told to Palestinian Jews two thousand years ago. When we hear this story today it appears sweet but when first it was heard it was a shocking and unsettling challenge to the prejudice and hypocrisy of his people! Jesus chose this type of individual as a worthy vehicle to exemplify the spirit of the Kin-dom. Were he in Ireland today he might well make a Traveller the main character or a Transgender person. If he was in China maybe he’d be a Human Rights Lawyer. If he was in America there’s a chanced he’d be an African-American Muslim.
There are many significant features to this story. At that time Samaritans were held in lower esteem than even the Romans. They were despised by the Jews. Not only were the Samaritans regarded as racially inferior, they also practiced a different religion to the Jews – a fact even Jesus acknowledged when speaking to the woman by the well. Thus, Jesus selected a man from a despised minority, one that was not even a Hebrew, and made him the primary instrument in one of his most famous parables.
The nature of Parable is also significant to our enterprise. The purpose of a parable is not to communicate some literal fact but to convey a spiritual (inspirational) truth. Jesus was not interested in the beliefs to which this man subscribed, it was the spirit of his life that he commended, the values inspired him, and the ideals he held that shaped his life. Jesus asked his hearer’s to look passed all that was objectionable: his minority status, the historical grievances between the Jews and the Samaritans, the fact of his different and supposedly inferior religion and perceive the spirit wherewith this child of God lived his life.
The Samaritans heart reached out passed all objections and questions about the man’s identity, passed wondering if he was rich or poor, Jew or gentile, deserving or undeserving, saw a man in need and took upon himself the responsibility of ensuring that this man was nursed back to health. This quality is as admirable now as it was then and it is to Masters’ credit that he concocted a story that has lost none of its sweetness, or its power to illuminate, even after two thousand years. It wasn’t this man’s religion that made him a beautiful portrayal of the spirit of the Kin-dom. If anything, traditional loyalties would have prejudiced him. Had he obeyed the dictates of tradition and custom, as the others had done, he would have amounted to little more than a commendable hypocrite. It was the fact that he courageously and quietly broke through all these confines to reach out to someone in need. In this parable Jesus pierced through all objectionable incidentals and revealed the child of God beneath and in so doing he challenges us to challenge our own prejudice or, at the very least, to be aware of them and recognise that these can become spiritual prisons.
There are tremendous truths enfolded in parables and when telling them Jesus was often heard to cry, ‘Let you that have the eyes to see – see, and you that have the ears to hear – hear!’ His parables and method of teaching played upon a favourite spiritual principle of his, ‘Seek and you will find.’ He understood that if someone is truly dedicated to finding truth then they most certainly would but, equally, if they were equally determined to NOT find truth then they most certainly would not; if they were determined to find that which would justify their own bias and prejudice they would find it. TRUTH is more than figuratively in the eye of the beholder. Dogma and doctrine, then, are useless to one that is dedicated to not finding truth and are unnecessary to one who is. Consequently, we find that those that seek to find a cause for offense do indeed find offense. While, conversely, those that seek cause to join hands – find it.
Over and over, throughout the Masters life, he laboured to teach us that we are not defiled by what enters through the eyes, ears, and mouth and, that being the case, neither can we be sanctified by what enters through the eyes, ears, and mouth. Sanctification or desecration comes from the heart. It was for this reason he looked with favour upon the prayer, ‘Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord!’ why Paul, and others, spoke about the regenerative work of the indwelling spirit. This emphasis on SPIRIT, in terms of the indwelling spirit, the inner guide that leads the way for every truth seeking child of God, and the Almighty Spirit that is shaping the destiny of the Universe, were fundamental to the teachings of Jesus.
When it came to prayer he taught that the Father was focused on the intention (spirit) not the words. Which is just as well really, given that the carpenter from Nazareth never spoke a word of English in his entire life and I doubt that situation has changed much in the last two thousand years. Thus the Spirit God reacts to the spirit content of your prayer and even your life. This being the case, that the spirit (the substance) is supreme over the letter (the cultural form), can it be that dogma, doctrine, tradition is somehow higher than the spirit that inspired it? Hardly, these are the effects, not the cause; the shadow, not the object. The substance of any prayer, parable, doctrine or dogma, lies with the spirit that inspired it and not in the letter wherewith it was constructed. Jesus always taught that spiritual realities are supreme over material one’s; that matter relates to spirit similar to how effects relate to cause. It was for this reason that he admonished us to be mindful of the desires we nurtured in our hearts, for of such come the issues of life.
The source of division amongst the grand family of the followers of Jesus probably lies more in the damaged, fractured and fragmented human heart than in doctrine and dogma. Like the Apostles, we are brothers, but we constantly bicker over who will be greatest in the Kin-dom. By succumbing to the delusion that we are somehow better than our brothers, more holy, closer to God, more fully in the Kin-dom, more authentic, more sincere, more loyal to the ideals and values of the gospel, means we have lost our spiritual way. Such is Pharisee Talk, ego, vanity and arrogance creating the spiritual stumbling blocks of prejudice, hypocrisy and self-righteousness, keeping us blind to the fact that our real purpose is to serve one another as friends and brothers and not to seek to lord it over one another as the heathen do. But to see your self (your church) as nothing and others as higher and more deserving, to be humble, sincere and service oriented, that would be more in keeping with the Kin-dom values taught by the Master.
I’d imagine few things make Heaven wince quite like an arrogant Church. Pride goes before a fall and perhaps this is why our Church now appears as one bloodied and bruised, naked and discarded on the roadside, like one whom passers-by step gingerly around in order to avoid. Could the Good Samaritan save it from this sorry plight?