From Rebecca Gingles

Today is my final day of work as Transfiguration’s Director of Communications. It has been a whirlwind two weeks of attempting to impart all of my knowledge of the “way we do things” to Judson Watkins, my successor, who has taken it all in stride. Trust me when I tell you that the Communications Department is in great hands!

As I reflect on four years of work in this church, I feel as though I’ve already said all that I need to, and I am so grateful. But, still, since I have the opportunity to write a reflection, I will turn to the Gospel for this weekend, and try out my new storyteller role as a Godly Play teacher and Lower School Chaplain.

We will hear a familiar parable (Luke 10:25-37): a man is robbed and left half-dead on the side of the road. Two men pass him by on the other side of the path. One man with whom he would not usually associate, shows compassion and stops to help. The question that initiates Jesus’s telling of the story is one we explored throughout the entire season of Lent this year – “Who is my neighbor?”

At my Godly Play training at the end of May, we practiced telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is one of the most memorable stories I learned as a child. Growing up, the point of it seemed so clear – bad guys robbed a man, bad guys passed him by, and a good guy helped him. Be like the good guy.

Parables in the Godly Play classroom are stored in gold boxes. Each time a parable is presented, the storyteller emphasizes that parables are very valuable, more valuable even than gold. Parables are stored in boxes with lids. This is because parables are hard to enter. We have to keep coming back to them so they will “open”. The gold box also looks like a present – parables are gifts to us. They were given to us a long time ago. And even if we don’t know what they are, they are still ours. An introduction like this is told before any parable is presented. The first time I heard it, I was speechless. What a beautiful way of introducing the difficulty, mystery, and gift of the parables!

At the end of any Godly Play story, hearers are invited to ask wondering questions.

With parables, a set of them are suggested in the lesson plan.

  1. I wonder who is the neighbor to the person who was hurt, had everything taken from him, and was left by the side of the road half dead?
  2. I wonder who is the neighbor of the priest? 
  3. I wonder who is the robber’s neighbor? Is it the other robber? Could it be the priest?
  4. I wonder what it means to be a neighbor? I wonder if Jesus was telling the story today, who might the Samaritan really be? I wonder who your neighbor is? 
  5. I wonder if you’ve ever had anyone be a neighbor to you like this Samaritan was to the hurt man.
  6. I wonder if you’ve ever been the one who was the Good Samaritan? 
  7. I wonder how you can be a Good Samaritan kind of neighbor to others.

As you quickly learn, wondering is hard work. As children, our deep, intuitive sense of right and wrong leads to those obvious conclusions about good guys and bad guys. As adults, it is also difficult because we don’t come into stories with childlike innocence; we come to them with too much knowledge of the world and its terrors, its heartache and pain. We want to know who is bad and who is good, and we really want to know if we’re good, or at least how we can be better.

I think these are the kinds of questions Jesus wants us to ask when we read this story. We’re supposed to measure ourselves against the unlikely standard of the Samaritan. But those questions can also make us forget to ask other very troubling questions about who the unlikely standards of neighborliness are in our own lives.  

When I want to make sure I’m good like the Samaritan, I can quickly donate a little money to an organization that helps people suffering at the border, or that assists those who are without clean water in some other part of the world. But when I’m invited to wonder, I’m confronted with the very uncomfortable reality that sometimes those who are standards of neighborliness in one area of life walk on the other side of the road in other areas. When I wonder, I begin to see how pure neighborly love is a gift from that most unlikely of all neighbors: Jesus himself.

When I wonder I begin to think less about good guys and bad guys. I begin to see us all on the side of the road in need of the love of someone radically unlike us. I begin to see the church as a little roadside inn where God has carried other hurting people and ask us to give them just a little oil and wine, ask us to bind up their wounds, ask us to love them while he goes looking for other hurting people to care for.

So, I wonder. I wonder who my neighbor is? I wonder how I love this neighbor as myself? And most of all I wonder, what wondrous love is this that God has given to us and wants us to give to others.

That’s a good gift indeed, and I look forward to sharing it with Parish students beginning next month. In the meantime, let’s knock once again on the door of this parable and ask to be let in. What do you hear when you read it this way:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of neighbors, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a neighbor was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a second neighbor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But another neighbor while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. This neighbor went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then the neighbor put the man on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day this neighbor took out two denarii, gave them to the neighbor who owned the inn, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbing neighbors?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Thanks be to God,