Real Life Good Samaritans

I wrote this post yesterday after church about one of the first spiritual experiences I’ve had  there in a while.

Good Samaritan

Today attended all three hours of church. Most Sundays I help care for babies after Sacrament meeting. But, this morning I sat in Relief Society with some friends and enjoyed a lesson on charity that began with the story of the Good Samaritan. As the lesson progressed to more depth about practicing charity, I kept thinking about how often we gloss over this compelling parable in Luke 10.

When our next teacher presented the Sunday School lesson about the Good Samaritan, I was surprised by the repetition.

He went through Luke 10:25-37 verse by verse and talked about how each of us is, metaphorically, the man who fell among thieves and lay on the side of the road, half-dead.

He explained that half-dead could be a metaphor for spiritually dead. My mind went back several years ago to a time when my feminist awakening produced a crisis of faith in my LDS life. In some ways I felt like I had been victim of some kind of spiritual robbery.  It was a dark time where I wrestled with questions of my worth as a human being, as a daughter of an absentee Heavenly Mother, as a woman in a man’s church, in a man’s world.  These things shook my LDS faith to the core.

With these memories in the front of my mind, I imagined myself as a woman who had fallen among thieves as we continued the lesson. In verse 31, a priest walks by but passes on the other side. The priest represented the church, which triggered another memory.

This time, it was about 2006 and I was sitting in an institute class in our stake, with my second baby on my lap, asking our teacher about the inequality between men and women in the church. It was only months after my internal crisis began and I was just starting to speak aloud these issues that tore at my spirit. My teacher, also the stake RS president, responded sincerely something to the effect of, “We (meaning the women in the room) have resolved these issues for ourselves and we wish you the best in your journey.” At the time, I was just grateful that I wasn’t more blatantly condemned for asking the unaskable, but today as I read about the priest leaving the man half-dead on the side of the road, I realized that the institute teacher/ RS president had been that priest to me. She had seen me half-dead and with a glance, and passed by on the other side of the road.

That may sound harsh, but I think the analogy holds. The priest in the bible story is doing is church job. He is not required by Jewish law to help this man and really thinks that the man would probably die anyway, or that if he does help him he’d be attacked as well (that’s what happens when you listen to a doubter, you start to doubt as well).

Of course the next person who walks by is a Levite, who passes by on the other side. Our teacher compared the Levite to temple workers and I did have an experience of talking with the temple matron about the temple and walking away very unsatisfied.

As we came to verse 33 where the Samaritan passes by, we discussed the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans during Christ’s life, something I’m sure I’ve heard a dozen times. And yet, this time it brought me to tears.

Samaritans were the apostates. They were outcasts, they married non-believers, they were culturally unacceptable, and yet in this story, the Samaritan was the one who could actually deal directly with the spiritually-dead  man on the side of the road.

And that is what has happened to me. In my years of pain, of wondering what kind of God would create women who are physically weaker and treated as property for centuries, what positive meaning for women can the Eden story ever hold, how can the Priesthood be of God when women are objects, in these moments, it was the real life Samaritans that have helped comfort me.

Many of them are you, reading this right now. Like me, sometimes you feel marginalized, maybe you’ve left the church, maybe you’re married to a non-believer, or are single, or (gasp!) homosexual.

But real life Good Samaritans see Mormons with doubts and pain who are half-dead and don’t shirk from taking on those problems because they’ve taken them on themselves.

I believe that God really sent me that message today. As the teacher went on to explain his opinion that the Good Samaritan is Jesus, it didn’t quite ring true to me.   I didn’t feel the spirit as I had in my own heart and head as I felt the last few years of my life play out in Luke’s story.

Perhaps it’s problematic that the lesson spoke to me in a subversive way about how the church and it’s most faithful members miss those of us who are half-dead on the side of the road.

But, perhaps the meaning that I was supposed to get from this lesson is that now that I can look back with some distance, I am no longer the the woman who fell among thieves.

I am the Good Samaritan.

Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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40 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing your take, your experience with this parable. Yesterday we had the same lessons, back to back, and I wanted more–what else is there to learn here? So, thank you for spinning it a new and different way.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Rachel,
      Thanks for your comments. I have found that the repetition in church can give me more meaning, but sometimes just more boredom.

      It’s always a crap-shoot either way, really.

  2. James says:

    Really excellent and insightful, Jess. This articulates a large part of why I stick around the ‘nacle. I somehow avoided the “crisis of faith” stage as I became more aware of the various shortcomings of the church and its leaders, but staying in touch with the blogs has already helped me connect meaningfully with several close friends and family members dealing with the “hard stuff,” and I expect that to continue, possibly even in a leadership capacity in my ward…I dread that possibility, but am realistic about the fact that inspiration may fail someone and I’ll end up being called to something “important.”

    Along those lines, one of my ongoing frustrations is the fact that when our ward council meets before church, the number of potential people to give rides to investigators and/or needy ward members drops close to zero. I get that the meetings serve a necessary purpose in helping the ward function, but part of me just goes crazy thinking about the fact that people have been left behind on account of more “dumb meetings.” Gah!

    • Jessawhy says:

      James,
      Thanks for chiming in. Mark is in ward leadership and he is presenting tolerant and inclusive views in his leadership meetings. I’m always impressed that he’s willing to take on the hard questions both in PEC or in Elder’s Quorum. The problem in our ward is that the women in the RS are more hesitant to engage the tough questions (how do we obey without being blindly obedient?) and typically choose to toe the party line.

      On the other hand, our current RS pres had a meeting where we all talked about our trials very openly and really engaged some of life’s hard questions. They weren’t about faith in the church, but it’s a step in the right direction.

      I echo your frustration with church meetings getting in the way of actual service. In fact, every time we have a lesson on service I just want to get up and go clean someone’s house during that hour instead.

      Thanks for stopping by! Always good to hear from you.

  3. Alisa says:

    Jess, I absolutely love this analysis and the inspiration you got from the lesson yesterday. Love it.

    I would share some similar stories, but have realized it’s TMI for the blog. But yes, I think some of us who have felt differently, who have experienced being on the periphery, have such an opportunity to lift up others who are struggling.

    • Jessawhy says:

      I’m glad that this post resonated with you, Alisa.

      One of the messages that I’m still fleshing out is the idea that a savior/Good Samaritan can be someone who rescues me from binary thinking and strict obedience and helps me see the good in what I’ve been taught is a “bad” world.

      It’s all about personal connections and seeing the divine in the people I meet.

  4. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you, Jessawhy. I have always loved this parable but have never seen it quite this way. All of you here at Exponent have been Good Samaritans to me when many others have quite literally walked on by. All I can say is a very sincere thank you.

    • Alisa says:

      Catherine, I am always so glad to read your comments. Thanks for being a part of our community!

    • Jessawhy says:

      CatherineWO,
      I feel so good reading your comment. I wish there was an easier way to meet you IRL, but blogging friendships are better than none at all.

      Glad to have you here.

  5. Corktree says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience Jess. I would never have looked at the parable quite this way, and I think you are right. While the good samaritan may be a type of Christ, it feels wrong to say that this is all he can be related to. If that were so, then only Christ is capable of stepping in where others fall short? Nope.

    It is immensely comforting to feel that those of us in crisis, feeling the loss of what we previously had, may actually be part of the story of the Gospel in some way. And what a lovely thought to turn from being one in need to one who can help others. Great post.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Corktree,
      I like what you said here, “It is immensely comforting to feel that those of us in crisis, feeling the loss of what we previously had, may actually be part of the story of the Gospel in some way.”

      I wish we could hear something like this in general conference. (especially if it was from a woman)

  6. Ziff says:

    I love this post, Jessawhy! I’m so encouraged by your approach of seeing yourself of having gone through this difficult experience–this crisis of faith–where the Church wasn’t much there for you, but now you can be helpful to others who have similar experiences.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Thanks, Ziff.

      Perhaps I’m too presumptuous to feel like I’m out of the crisis of faith. But at least it’s not as deeply painful as it was in the beginning. I feel that although I’ve lost my rigid belief system, I’ve gained a broader and more beautiful way of seeing the world and the people around me.

  7. jks says:

    Your last two paragraphs were so powerful.

  8. Katrina says:

    beautiful interpretation! will definitely be sharing this. thank you!

  9. Jared says:

    Thank you for this, Jessawhy.

    Beautiful. The historical reality is even more powerful than expressed in this wonderful article… not only were the priest and levite not compelled to help the potentially dead man, they were FORBIDDEN to do so. They had to maintain their purity, even at the cost of loving service. That was Jesus’ condemnation of certain forms of Judaism of his day. I think the parallels to the Church are excellent.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Jared,
      Thanks for your comment. I didn’t realize that the priest and Levite were forbidden from helping the man but that actually explains the story a lot. It also helps me see why sometimes those who are working so hard to follow every letter of every law may sometimes miss the weightier matters.

      It reminds me of the post at ZD about Elder Bednar’s talk about the girlfriend with an extra set of earrings and the fictional talk boyfriend who wouldn’t respond to calls for international aid.
      http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2011/04/07/elder-bednars-october-2011-general-conference-talk/

      • Jared says:

        Oh my gosh I HATE the two earring talk. So deeply disturbing. I thought I would clarify my point a bit:

        Priests and Levites were seen as the pinnacle of holiness in mainstream Jewish culture. Similar to General Authorities in ours. In order to maintain this purity they had strict rules about what rendered them ritually unfit to perform religious services. And one of their big rules was that they could not touch a dead body except for immediate family (Lev 21:1-3). Even if they touched a dead body in this case, they needed to go through a process to become once again ritually fit. Does that answer your question?

        So the irony is that their requirements to be holy and close to God were actually, in Jesus’ view, leading them AWAY from God. The point of this parable in Jewish context is stunningly powerful. Jesus is saying that the most despised, marginalized person in Jewish conception is actually holier than the most revered members of Jewish society.

        I love how the historical context turns a beautiful, touching parable into a powerful, loving condemnation of certain forms of religiosity.

  10. Jill says:

    That is the nicest thing I have read in a long time. I have been thinking so much about how the people who have always been there for me are the unconventional apostate types. Thank you so much

  11. Keri Brooks says:

    This is beautiful, Jessawhy. Thanks for sharing.

    When I first found the Bloggernacle, I tended to stay away from what I perceived to be the angrier portions. (I’m talking some of the faithful, well-known blogs, not the DAMU.) I wasn’t ready or equipped to deal with all that emotion; I was still figuring out my own stuff. It makes me wonder if I passed by anyone on the side of the road. I’ve now found myself integrated into the parts of the ‘nacle I avoided before. I managed to do so without suffering a crisis of faith, but I hope I can be a good Samaritan anyway. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Keri,
      I’ve often thought that the anger that people direct to the church comes from the pain of being hurt or disappointed. When we’re not afraid of the anger sometime we can hear people in a way that helps them get past it.

      Thanks for your comment.

  12. Deborah says:

    Beautiful, Jess. I am teaching gospel doctrine right now and love love love teaching the four gospels — story after story about reaching out to those on the margins, the wounded, the weary, the fringe, the outcast. And so often, it is these who recognize Jesus and his message before the “disciples” do . . .

    • Jessawhy says:

      I do love the gospels. There is so much that is enlightening and so much that is condemning.
      I’d love it if we studied them more often and asked the hard questions.

      One that’s been on my mind recently came from a young man who recently returned from a mission in Brazil. He’s been in shock upon his return about how much waste and excess we have in the states. He told his dad that their house was big enough to hold 5 families in Brazil. He said the Stake President’s house is a mansion (it is really, apparently) and that the Brazilian president didn’t even live in a house that size. When I heard this I felt bad for him and other missionaries who come home to the cognitive dissonance of the wealth they see in their church leaders compared to poverty they saw in the field. How do they reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus and the BoM that we should have all things equal among us? It’s got to be tough for them to settle that inner struggle.

  13. Carol says:

    I really enjoyed this post and the comments. Thank you! I see myself at times as each of the people described in the parable. Sometimes I am wounded in body or spirit, needing the help and succour. of others, who manifest the Savior’s love through their service and kindness. Other times I am the Levite and priest, so caught up in my own busyness that I neglect to help those around me in ways that are meaningful and essential. And, then, there are the joyful times when I am the good Samaritan and glimpse the joy of heaven when I can reach out to another with compassion and pure love.

    As I grow older, I find it easier to be kinder and less judgmental of each person in the parable, for these characters reveal my own weaknesses and strengths and allow me to celebrate the Savior’s incomprehensible, healing love for each of His precious children.

  14. s-lpz says:

    Thanks for your beautiful, insightful comments, Jessawhy. The Good Samaritan has always been one of my favorite stories and after reading your perspective, I love it even more. When I was active, I craved those kinds of lessons and discussions. To me, they reach into the very heart of who Christ was/is and I thirsted for morre. I wanted my three hours of church to be filled with lessons about being more like Christ and I ultimately left because they weren’t. I just didn’t need another handcart story or to hear about the evils of having an extra earring on my right ear.

    I should also say that I have beautiful memories of my oldest daughter (who is now 27) presenting a flannel board story of The Good Samaritan in Sacrament meeting when she was 6. She had memorized the story and did an excellent job of presenting it. She had this adorable way of saying “half dead.”

    • Jessawhy says:

      s-lpz,
      I hear you. It’s hard to feel like you don’t share the values of your congregation. I’ve felt that way too, sometimes.
      The story about your daughter sounds adorable. In my mind we don’t include enough children in our worship services. Once a year Primary program isn’t enough. We’ve been in wards before where children would bear their testimonies on Sunday, but not this ward. You practically have to have a hearing aid to bear your testimony 🙂

  15. Kelly Ann says:

    Jessawhy, I really like your perspective. Thank you.

  16. EmilyCC says:

    Beautiful, Jess. This interpretation is wonderful and has me a little teary. And, the layers of applicability are astounding.

    I like what Carol said about seeing herself in each of the characters in this parable. While I hope to see myself as the Good Samaritan or even the man who was robbed, I cringe a little to think how often I look more like the priest and Levite.

  17. Jessawhy says:

    Kelly Ann and EmilyCC,
    Thanks sisters!
    I think I can be a Good Samaritan for someone who is going through what I’ve been through (if I can get close enough in the first place to be able to tell), but I’m probably a priest or Levite to people with different struggles. Thanks for the humbling reminder.

  18. s-lpz says:

    This story and the comments have stayed with me since I read it. Today one of my patients told me about a recent trip she went on as a chaperone with her son’s Catholic middle school choir. They travelled from Seattle to Washington D.C. so she had plenty of time to make observations about the dynamics between the kids (two groups–the “in crowd” and the “outcasts”). But more importantly, she and the other parents observed how the choir director encouraged such a division and clearly favored the “in crowd.” It was sad to her that her son was in the “outcasts” group, along with several other kids.

    Jessawhy, I remembered your observations :

    “Samaritans were the apostates. They were outcasts, they married non-believers, they were culturally unacceptable, and yet in this story, the Samaritan was the one who could actually deal directly with the spiritually-dead man on the side of the road.”

    and shared them with my patient. We talked about how being marginalized helps us develop empathy, compassion, and sensitivity to others. It’s a sucky way to learn, but in the end quite valuable.

  19. Jessawhy says:

    s-lpz,
    You just made my day. Thank you for sharing that story. Even harder than being an outcast ourselves is watching our kids go through it. I say this as the mother of a child who sits alone on the bus.
    It makes me want to try harder to help my sons develop the ability to see people who usually aren’t seen.

    I wish you, and your patient, all the best.

  20. Whoa-man says:

    What a beautifully written and inspiring post. Thank you!

  21. EmilyCC says:

    I keep forgetting to add that your piece, Jess, goes SO well with the Women’s Theology feature in this issue of EXII titled, “No Apologies or Apologetics: a New Sunday School” by Elizabeth Hammond. She looks at the Good Samaritan, too.

    My favorite quote in her piece is: “Perhaps Sunday School isn’t supposed to give us answers, but rather to offer questions so we can pray about answers.”

  22. Apame says:

    This post means so much to me. And you know why.

    Thank you.

  23. Kmillecam says:

    Jessawhy, what an amazing post. I love the layers of meaning that others have mentioned. And I love how much of yourself is here. I have known you on the upswing of the pain, so it was difficult and powerful to read where you were a few years ago. You’re so right that this shared experience can be the binding between you and others struggling with similar issues. I find that I keep my mouth shut around most people inquiring into my belief state, unless they have been there themselves. (Or if they seem sympathetic to my plight, suggesting they have been through something similar.)

    I’m so glad to read that you are gleaning insight that will help you make peace with things that used to be triggering for you.

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