Jesus spoke in stories, riddles and at times even jokes - he was in truth a great storyteller.
When pressed for an exact and precise answer he often returned with a story. Some of those stories were designed to teach an important lesson in plain and relatable language - others curiously enough were spoken intentionally to confuse or cloud the truth.
Like many other storytellers Jesus was not opposed to taking an existing story and retelling it with a new spin or twist. In fact literary historians can find parallel examples of almost all of the stories told by Jesus outside the Bible - with but one exception. Which adds a layer of profoundness to an already radically subversive story.
The story in question is that of the Good Samaritan. A title that while familiar to many today, did not roll roll off the tongue quite so easily amidst its original audience.
As it was on many occasions Jesus was being questioned about religious practice - namely, how to get to heaven. Jesus’ response shifted the conversation from life beyond the grave to the practice of compassion and care in the here and now. In this story he both pokes fun at the religious leaders of the day but he effectively used a marginalized, even hated people, as the hero in the story.
Imagine a preacher today telling a story in church where the Christians are cast as the bad guys and the hero who saves the day is someone totally 'other' to the Western Church. Perhaps an atheist? Or in some churches perhaps the hero might be an abortion doctor or an Afghani freedom fighter? If such a sermon were preached, I can imagine quite a few feathers being ruffled in the pews, who knows someone might even chase such a preacher out the back door. Which is in fact exactly what happened to Jesus on at least one occasion.
That, however, is exactly the point Jesus was trying to make.
Jesus was trying to shift the identity of his followers from simply loving themselves and those who were like them, to loving all people even those who were different. And not simply tolerating them either, but including them, loving them and discovering who they really are.
Jesus’ conclusion to the story?
Go and do as the other (atheist, abortion doctor or freedom fighter) has done and you will experience heaven.
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