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The Good Samaritan, Mary, and the Boss

December 1, 2010

At a recent retreat for Methodist pastors at beautiful Kanuga retreat center in the North Carolina mountains (the fall colors were spectacular), I did three talks on “Christian Social Engagement” drawing from two powerful stories.

"The Good Samaritan," artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall, age 82, Sheffield, England.

First, the Good Samaritan.  The story’s power – as Jesus’ answer to a religious lawyer’s cross-examination question “and who is my neighbor” – is in Jesus choosing a scandalous exemplar for his listeners:  a despised Samaritan who is willing not only to be interrupted to save the man beaten on a treacherous road by robbers, but to completely change his course of direction in journeying with the stranger to an inn, then promising to return.  This is more than an act of mercy:  it’s a vision of an unlikely new relationship in the making, of pilgrims willing to change directions to cross social divides, into dangerous places, of costly, time-full acts of mercy opening them up to a “new we.”  This is loving neighbor as building the beloved community.

I asked the pastors if they knew what story follows in Luke 10.  As is usually the case, they didn’t– as I didn’t until a crisis in my life 12 years ago when I ran out of steam in the midst of a ministry of radical hospitality.   Immediately after telling this story, Jesus travels to Bethany.  Hosted by busy Martha, who protests she is doing “the work” while her sister sits at Jesus’ feet listening, he says her sister Mary has done “the one thing needful.”   The two stories, usually not seen as a whole, are in Luke’s gospel a powerful spirituality of Christian social ministry:  both pilgrims not only crossing divides toward God’s “new we” through costly acts but also, just as much an interruption, willing to be “detoured” from work which easily becomes the end to be still and listen to the One who called them.  The two ways of being interrupted, woven tightly together, are a fresh vision of social engagement.

Martha and Mary, Rembrandt

A final image came to me on the drive home:  a song on my IPod by my new musical companion Bruce Stringsteen called “Land of Hope and Dreams.”  I hear in it a story about a journey toward beloved community.  The Good Samaritan, Mary, and the Boss, imagine that.

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rolling down the tracks
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
Darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
And we’ll leave the rest

Big Wheels rolling through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams…

… This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This Train
Carries whores and gamblers
This Train
Carries lost souls
This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin’
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin’
This Train
Carries broken-hearted
This Train
Thieves and sweet souls departed
This Train
Carries fools and kings
This Train
All aboard

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

Also See:  “The Wisdom of ‘the Boss’”

See Previous Reconcilers Posts from Lausanne Cape Town:

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