Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A New Take on The Good Samaritan

Let me say it for the first time publicly: I love Greg Boyd. I subscribed to his podcast a few weeks ago and have found him to be one of the best "preachers" I have ever heard. He is not shy to talk about controversial, important issues and take a Christ-like stance on them. But, he does it in a way that doesn't seem preachy, but comes across as both humble and passionate.

I was listening to a message today on The Good Samaritan. Boyd gives the best message I have ever heard on this great parable. I had thought about this for years, and had struggled to come up with a good modern day version that adequately captures the offense that would have been felt by the hearers in regards to their cultural realities and biases upon hearing this parable. I think Greg has done this. Here is his modern version:

There is this girl walking down the street, and she gets attacked by a bunch of muggers and gets raped and beat up and left for dead. Billy Graham happens to be walking by, but he passes by on the other side of the road. And then Mother Theresa comes, but she passes by on the other side of the road. But then there is this transvestite who is just coming back from one of his transvestite parties and he's singing and dancing down the road and he sees this young girl almost dead and beat up. So he picks her up and carries her to a hospital, and she doesn't have health insurances so he tells the hospital "I'll foot the whole bill." And he sacrifices everything he was doing and everything he owns to help out this young girl. Go, now, and be like the transvestite and not like Billy Graham or Mother Theresa.


Thoughts?

UPDATE: If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, which I hignly reccomend, you can find it here. It is the one called Surprised by the Outcast given on 11/11.

27 comments:

Mark said...

That's why I can respect some Christians and not other's. Some are more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit of the law, so to speak. When they adhere to the former, they completely miss the point.

Nick said...

Some are more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit of the law

You sound a lot like Jesus here, Mark. ;)

Chip Burkitt said...

Jesus' telling of the parable avoids personal names in favor of the categories, priest and Levite. I think he does this in order to get at the bias of his hearers without getting them hung up on the obvious question: Would Billy Graham or Mother Theresa pass by on the other side? What if we substituted categories like televangelist and church worker? Aren't these the folks presumed righteous in Christian culture?

Matt Brinkman said...

While I understand the retelling is meant to highlight the audacity (and the outrageousness) of what Jesus said, it bothers me to see individual names in the story. Unless Greg has reason to know that Billy Graham or Mother Theresa would pass by on the other side of the road, this strikes me as being an uncalled for personal attack.

Nick said...

Unless Greg has reason to know that Billy Graham or Mother Theresa would pass by on the other side of the road...

I think you miss the point, Matt. It isn't a personal attack. Greg clearly picked people that everyone thinks highly of (himself included) to make the point, as Jesus did. Jesus' parable was not a critique of the Priests and Levites, but a critique against the prejudices of the day, as Greg is not attacking BG or MT.

What if we substituted categories like televangelist and church worker? Aren't these the folks presumed righteous in Christian culture?

I'm nut sure televangelist would work. Church worker maybe. I'm not sure categories capture the charge that Jesus' parable would have had back then. That is why I actually think that names work better in the modern day version.

But, regardless, Greg's version is a fake parable. It is only to make us think.

What do you guys think of replacing "Samaritan" with "transvestite"? Is that an accurate replacement to fit our culture?

Tim said...

I have to agree with Chip and Matt that I think the personal names, especially those two names, goes a bit far. In particular, I believe that both of them would stop, especially Mother Teresa. To point out an even greater irony, the ministry that Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, runs is Samaritan's Purse. Franklin didn't come up with that idea just on his own, but rather from watching his father.

I would agree that televangelist and church worker or something like that would be more consistent with the original context of the parable. Specifically because Jesus is lumping the general lot of the groups that are opposing his teachings in the emphasis he is making.

Tim said...

Ok, so Nick you posted your reply as I was typing... so I'll post another reply.

First off, I do think that Jesus was attacking the two other groups, or maybe more subtly attacking the rules that each group follows. It is consistent throughout the gospels that Jesus is showing the people just how far off of God's original commandments the Jewish leaders had strayed. The basis, of course, is "Love the LORD your God... and Love your neighbors...", but they had added so much more to that.

Now clearly even that is impossible for us to do on our own, but the priests, Levites, Pharisees, Saducees, etc made it even harder because now the people now had to please man, law, and God.

I really think Jesus was telling people not just to look past the cultural barriers about who your neighbor was, but more so past the religious barriers man has put up in between us and God.

Matt Brinkman said...

I think you miss the point, Matt. It isn't a personal attack. Greg clearly picked people that everyone thinks highly of (himself included) to make the point, as Jesus did.

I did understand the the point Greg was trying to make. I just feel that he made it in a unjust way. Singling people out by name and claiming they would act hypocritically strikes me as being manifestly unfair.

Nick said...

I believe that both of them would stop

Yeah, Tim, I think that is the point. We would expect these people to stop. Just like, I think it is fair to say, the people in the audience of Jesus would have expected the priest and the Levite to stop. The point is the contrast of the good people who ignore and the inlikely hero.

Singling people out by name and claiming they would act hypocritically strikes me as being manifestly unfair.

I think this is my fault for quoting him (Greg) out of context. I think if you guys listened to the message it would be clear that he is not saying anything at all bad about BG or MT. He is actually complimenting them by his usage of them.

Here is another quote Grag says right before offering his version: "[The priest and the Livite] were among the most respected people in first century Jewish culture."

I would say don't get hung up on the fact that Greg used individuals. He is trying to connect the people for contrast: Billy Graham vs a transvestite. That is the point he (Greg) is making in the larger context of the message.

I do think that Jesus was attacking the two other groups...

We may have to agree to disagree here, Tim. Though it is certainly true that Jesus clashed with the Pharisees and groups who had heaped on rules, I think the context here points to simply elevating Samaritans to make a point, rather than to pile on the Jews. I think we could agree that one person he was critiquing was the lawyer who asked the question, trying to get away with not loving someone and trying to weasel out of caring for someone who might not be considered his neighbor.

Great thoughts guys!!! Keep it up!

Chip Burkitt said...

The point of using priest and Levite is twofold: they were respected and regarded as righteous, AND they could very well have had compelling reasons not to stop. The story is about getting involved in someone else's troubles. First century Jews believed that trouble was the result of sin. The priest and Levite regarded the injured man as suffering for his own sin. Why, then, should they stop and help him?
The lawyer who asked the question was essentially asking for clarification. If I am to love my neighbor, I need to know how to recognize my neighbor. Who are the people I am to love? And by implication, who are the people I need not bother about?
Jesus turns the question on its head. He does not tell the lawyer, "Anyone in need is your neighbor" because that still divides the world into neighbors and non-neighbors. No, he tells him to be a neighbor. Jesus' story exposes the essential selfishness behind the man's question. The man wants to know what the limits are to his potential involvement in other people's troubles. Jesus tells him there are no limits.
I think Greg Boyd's use of personal names vitiates the impact of the parable. Just look at how our own discussion of the parable has shifted from what Jesus intended to answering the question, "Wouldn't Billy Graham or Mother Theresa have stopped?" I also think it's a bit disingenuous of Greg to use the names of people who are known to have been righteous but who are now dead and incapable of defending themselves against calumny.

Chip Burkitt said...

Note that no one here has taken issue with Greg's use of a transvestite in place of the Samaritan. We all know that transvestites are despised and regarded as sinners. Why not name names? Perhaps transvestites have so little social status that being famous confers a degree of social acceptance at odds with the needs of the parable. In that case, to name a famous transvestite would be to undermine much of the power of the parable. I think naming the priest and Levite does the same thing but for slightly different reasons.

Tim said...

Chip, I think you hit the nail right on the head. I wish I could have said it as well.

Nick, I think this has been a great conversation, and I am enjoying the topics you have been bringing up.

Matt Brinkman said...

Chip wrote, "Note that no one here has taken issue with Greg's use of a transvestite in place of the Samaritan. We all know that transvestites are despised and regarded as sinners. Why not name names?"

Thanks for this comment, Chip. I think it also underscores the saddest part of the retelling. Greg was forced to "name names" on the positive side precisely because in our culture no one would expect a "Christian" or even a "pastor" to stop and help a person in need. To have used those generic names would have had (almost?!?) zero resonance.

In something that I agree with completely, Tim wrote, "Nick, I think this has been a great conversation, and I am enjoying the topics you have been bringing up."

Nick said...

I also think it's a bit disingenuous of Greg to use the names of people who are known to have been righteous but who are now dead and incapable of defending themselves against calumny.

Not to nit pick, but Billy Graham is not dead, though he is ancient.

I appriciate your guys' continued dialogue on this, but I am again left saying that there would be no need for these two to defend themselves as it is a parable. It would be like starting a story "Imagine if..." Even if the story started "Imagine if Nick Fox was a transvestite..." I wouldnt feel the need to defend myself, because it is obviously only a story to make a point.

I guess we have to agree to disagree, like I said before.

Furthermore, perhaps we could agree that while Boyd does perhaps wrongly use personal names, it is because, as Matt says, there are not really any very good categories we can think of to use in their place.

Nick, I think this has been a great conversation, and I am enjoying the topics you have been bringing up.

Thanks guys. It is I who am honored by your participation.

Matt Brinkman said...

I would have given Chip a big thumbs up just for the use of the word "calumny," but I can't really commend--for the second time--someone who is attempting to shuffle Billy Graham off this mortal coil prematurely.

Nick said...

Hey guys,

I have updated the post to include a link to the entire sermon, if you would like to listen to the whole thing.

Thanks!

Mark said...

Wasn't Mother Theresa actually an atheist? I think the point of Boyd's take on The Good Samaritan parable illustrates that one doesn't need God to be good.

Nick said...

No, Mark, Mother Theresa was not an atheist. That is an incorrect conclusion from the writings that surfaced earlier this year. She had doubts, like everyone, and certainly struggled, like everyone, but she was not an atheist.

Nick said...

...although I would agree that a person doesn't need God to do "good things."

Mark said...

Shortly after beginning work in Calcutta's slums, the spirit left Mother Teresa.

"I call, I cling, I want ... and there is no One to answer ... no One on Whom I can cling ... no, No One. Alone ... Where is my Faith ... even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness ... My God ... how painful is this unknown pain ... I have no Faith ... I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart ... & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them ... because of the blasphemy ... If there be God ... please forgive me ... When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me ... and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul."
- Mother Teresa

Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.

"Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal," she said.

As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.

She was just having a crises of faith for the last 40 years? It looks more to me like she lost her faith but was scared to admit it for fear of being accused of hypocrisy. That's why it was her secret. I think she was a closet atheist.

Nick said...

Yeah. That isn;t as uncommon for Christians as you might think. If any of us had our darkest journal entries read, particularly those who saw what she saw day in and day out, it would be shocking. We all experience doubt and despair. That doesnt mean we're atheists.

Mark said...

But Nick, those comments go much farther than being depressed or doubting. She said she lost her faith in God. Isn't that an atheist? Depression and doubt have nothing to do with theism and atheism, it's what you believe. According to her own words, Mother Teresa was not a believer anymore. At the very least, at the bare minimum, she was agnostic.

Nick said...

But Nick, those comments go much farther than being depressed or doubting. She said she lost her faith in God,

I've had Christian friends tell me that in their lowest moments. That doesnt mean they were atheists. It would be wrong to judge a person by their thoughts and feelings at their lowest point, as it would probably also be innaccurate to judge them at their highest.

I'm telling you, Mark, doubting your faith, even questioning if it exists is not THAT uncommon. Did it surprise me when I read it from MT? Yes, it did. But, I guess my point is that you cant make the bold statement that "Mother Theresa was an atheist" based on that.

As Tony Campolo says, "All of us have these times of darkness, of emptiness. The Catholics call it the "dark night of the soul." All the saints had them. You cannot comt up with a saint, who, in his or her biography does not report going through a "dark night of the soul"."

Mark said...

Nick, you might have a point if MT's "low moment" didn't last for 40+ years until the day she died. She didn't need to deny God to be considered an atheist. All she has to do is lack faith God exists. She said, "I have no Faith." What more can you ask for?

Tim said...

I think that if you look through the Psalms, you will find some very depressing and even accusing words towards God. And of course Job is a perfect example, too.

But I've been working through Psalm 44 recently because in our small group, we did a section in Romans 8, at the end of the chapter, where Paul talks about "there is neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers..." and he quotes Psalm 44:22 right before going into that list.

What I find fascinating about his quoting Psalm 44 is that Psalm 44 was written in an accusing manner to God about why He has forsaken the Israelites. The Psalm starts out with 'we've heard stories of your deliverance by our ancestors and how great You are' for 8 verses, and the leaps off into 'but you've left us here to die and disappeared for no good reason!' And I love how the Message translates the last section (verses 23-26):
Get up, God! Are you going to sleep all day?
Wake up! Don't you care what happens to us?
Why do you bury your face in the pillow?
Why pretend things are just fine with us?
And here we are—flat on our faces in the dirt, held down with a boot on our necks.
Get up and come to our rescue. If you love us so much, Help us!


I actually had to lead that week of small group, so I printed out Psalm 44 to go with Romans 8 and we had a discussion about just how Paul could quote Psalm 44, which seems so negative and discouraging, for a section of Romans that is overwhelming positive and meant for encouragement. I'm still struggling with it, but I actually find Psalm 44 interesting that it uses such strong language and maybe it's ok for me to use it too when I'm going through a time like the writer of that Psalm was.

I don't have anything to add about Mother Teresa because I would really like to read the book that Mark is quoting from. Mark -- what book are you quoting from?

Cheers!

Mark said...

Hi Tim,

"A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated." - TIME magazine

Tim said...

Thanks, Mark. I've added it to my GoodReads "To-Read" books list.