Formations 09.06.2020: Whom Do I Fear?

Luke 10:25-37

In Luke 10, a religious expert tries to test Jesus with a question about eternal life. When Jesus answers with reference to the various commandments of the Torah, the expert challenges him further by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responds by telling one of his most familiar parables. Unfortunately, the parable is so well known that it is easy to miss one of its most important points.

Clarence Jordan was a biblical scholar and social activist. His Cotton Patch Gospel is a creative paraphrase that recontextualizes Jesus’ message for the American South of the mid-twentieth century. In so doing, he lays bare some of the important themes that casual readers might overlook.

Here is Jordan’s rendition of Jesus’ parable:

Then Jesus laid into him and said, “A man was going from Atlanta to Albany and some gangsters held him up. When they had robbed him of his wallet and brand-new suit, they beat him up and drove off in his car, leaving him unconscious on the shoulder of the highway.

“Now it just so happened that a white preacher was going down that same highway. When he saw the fellow, he stepped on the gas and went scooting by.

“Shortly afterwards a white Gospel song leader came down the road, and when he saw what had happened, he too stepped on the gas.

“Then a black man traveling that way came upon the fellow, and what he saw moved him to tears. He stopped and bound up his wounds as best he could, drew some water from his water-jug to wipe away the blood and then laid him on the back seat. He drove on into Albany and took him to the hospital and said to the nurse, ‘You all take good care of this white man I found on the highway. Here’s the only two dollars I got, but you all keep account of what he owes, and if he can’t pay it, I’ll settle up with you when I make a pay-day.’” (97–98)

All of this sets up the punchline in verses 36-37:

“Now if you had been the man held up by the gangsters, which of these three—the white preacher, the white song leader, or the black man—would you consider to have been your neighbor?”

The teacher of the adult Bible class said, “Why, of course, the nig—I mean, er…well, er…the one who treated me kindly.”

Jesus said, “Well, then, you get going and start living like that!” (98)

The parable teaches the importance of showing kindness even when it’s inconvenient. More important, though, is what it teaches about prejudice. The neighbor of the man in the ditch, the one who shows him kindness in his hour of need, is actually a hated outsider.

You probably don’t have opinions one way or another about Samaritans. You may have never even met one. So if Jesus were telling this parable to you, whom might he cast as the “Samaritan”? Who is the hated, or at least feared, outsider in your personal story? Is it the immigrant? The corporate insider? The good ole boy in the red ballcap? The tattooed young woman in the rainbow tee-shirt?

If Jesus forces us to consider who is our neighbor, he no less challenges us at the point of who is our “enemy”? Is there anyone whose help we would be embarrassed or self-conscious about accepting?

Clarence Jordan, Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011).

Discussion

• Where do you see yourself in this parable? With which character do you most identify?
• What did the man in the ditch have to learn about recognizing his neighbors?
• What does it mean for us to “go and do likewise”?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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