Storytelling and the Good Samaritan
My 3-year-old says the most important thing is, “To love God and love your neighbor.” I begin to think he is more holy than other children, and then he wipes a booger on his grandfather’s leg.
But he’s right. Jesus says as much to a Bible expert in Luke 10. However, then the expert wants clarification on who his neighbors actually are. Who does he have to love?
The question actually answers something for Jesus. So, he tells a story. We know it as The Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37). You probably know it well.
I want to suggest that the Good Samaritan story is an example of storytelling as a gospel instrument.
What do I mean? Let’s imagine the experience the lawyer has as he hears the story.
First, he probably puts himself in the shoes of the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This one is not that hard for him. He had probably made that trip before. He knew it was a dangerous road, where bandits occasionally robbed travelers. He imagines what it would be like to be attacked out there on that desolate road. What would he do? He feels vulnerable, exposed. That’s how a good story gets you: emotional freight. Jesus, a good storyteller, knows what he’s doing.
So then, by way of the story, Jesus invites him to step into the shoes of some different men. Again, the shoes are almost a perfect fit. He already runs in the same circles as a priest or Levite. But now, in their shoes, he has to watch himself walk by this man in desperate need. Before he felt vulnerable, and now he feels shame. He sees himself doing something so shameful, and he wants to turn around. We call that repentance. Turning around.
But then Jesus twists the story’s “knife” a little bit further. Now, this good Jewish man has to put himself into the skin of a Samaritan. I won’t go into all the details about why he, as a good Jew, hates Samaritans and is hated by them. But let’s just say, this is not skin he wants to wear. Jesus tells him not only that a Samaritan knows more about being a neighbor than him, but that he should pay attention to the example of that Samaritan and go be like him.
Pay attention here. Don’t miss this. The story isn’t answering his question, “Who is my neighbor?” The story, by forcing him to take on one identity after another until he lands on one he never saw coming, is a well-crafted invitation to an identity crisis.
The man starts by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” He walks away asking, “Who am I?”
A story did that. But how is that gospel?
Well, let’s recap: A religious man asks Jesus what he has to do to have eternal life. Jesus confirms that he needs to love God and love his neighbor. But when the man says he need more specifics, Jesus knows what he actually needs is to become someone different. This man needs a totally different identity, or else he will never love God, will never love his neighbor, and won’t have a shot at eternal life.
That’s the gospel.
We come to God because we are overcome by our vulnerability in this world. We long for a greater power. For safety, security. But God is holy and when we encounter him, we see how unholy we are. How likely we are to walk by someone in need. How broken we are by sin. How damaging our sin is to everyone around us. So we repent. We turn around. That pleases God, and yet that’s not enough. God intends to transform us. To put different skin on us. To make us different people. He wants us to ask that question, “Who am I?” When we finally ask it, he is prepared to answer, and his answer has the power to change our lives, and the world.
His answer: you are a neighbor.
I suppose Jesus could have gotten to that point without the story. But the story forces the man to feel that answer, both its discomfort and allure. The man either walks away with disgust or desire.
One of those can start a transformation.
No one said storytelling was a precise tool. Just another tool in the box.