The Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh 1890
When parables become proverbial they lose their primary means of instruction which is a classic bait and switch. The lawyer testing Jesus is himself tested by the parable and forced to acknowledge the Samaritan as his neighbor even though he can’t bring himself to state it outright. “I suppose it was the one who showed mercy.” I imagine Jesus chuckled at the lawyer’s “I suppose…” On the other hand, as long as the parable of the Good Samaritan stays a story it hardly matters, even for the lawyer who passed Jesus’ test while failing his own. The “go and do likewise” is the real point of the parable and that only makes a difference if those who no longer seek to justify themselves act more like the Samaritan and less like the priest or Levite. Which means we can recast the story in our time with a Lutheran pastor, a medical doctor and whoever we dismiss as “less than” but unless we “go and do likewise” the parable has no point in being recast or retold. But if in hearing his own voice naming the neighbor the lawyer is moved to act like a priest or Levite who caring more about the bloodied man than remaining ritually pure stops to do what the Samaritan did then the parable is more than just a clever ruse designed to convict a lawyer. For all those justified by Jesus and no longer surprised by the plot twist or fooled by the bait and switch the story becomes an invitation to “go and do likewise” and in so doing we might just put the punch back in the parable.