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A Thought Exercise: A “Mormonized” Version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan

I’m reading Marcus Borg’s challenging and thought-provoking book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (note: I don’t recommend it as a starting place if you don’t already have some exposure to scholarship that addresses the historicity of scripture).

I just finished a section about the purity system in 1st century Palestine’s social world.  Borg explains that the purity system was “a social system organized around the contrasts or polarities of pure and impure, clean and unclean.”   Purity was decided by such things as birth, behavior, physical wholeness (thus, lepers, eunuchs, crippled people, etc. were “impure”), profession, sex, and one’s identity as Jew or Gentile (with Gentiles being, by definition, unclean).

Christ came, in large part, to challenge the purity system; to replace ritual cleanliness (or what the ancient Jews called “righteousness”) with compassion; to eliminate categories and hierarchies; to touch the untouchables.

One of his most radical parables along these lines was the Good Samaritan.  As Borg explains,

The key to seeing this is to recognize the purity issues in the story: the priest and Levite were obligated to maintain a certain level of purity; contact with death was a source of major impurity; and the wounded man is described as ‘half-dead,’ suggesting that one couldn’t tell whether he was dead without coming close enough to incur impurity if he as.  Thus the priest and Levite passed by out of observance of the purity laws.  The Samaritan (who, not incidentally, was radically impure according to the purity system), on the other hand is described as one who acted ‘compassionately.’  Thus this beloved and often domesticated parable was originally a pointed attack on the purity system and an advocacy of another way: compassion.

To demonstrate how radical this parable really was to the people in Christ’s day, I thought I’d do a little thought exercise.  So I recast the parable with characters that I think might be modern-day Mormon parallels of the characters Jesus created.   The result was kind of shocking.

This Jesus guy.  Who is he?

Anyway, see what came out (compare with Luke 10:25-37)…

Behold, a certain Relief Society President raised her hand and tested him, saying, “Brother, what do I need to do to go to the Celestial Kingdom?”

“What do the scriptures say?” he replied.  ”How do you read them?”

She answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”

“You have answered correctly,” he replied.  ”Do this, and you’ll inherit the Celestial Kingdom.”

But she wanted to justify herself, so she asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answered,

“A meth addict lived on the streets in downtown Salt Lake City.  One day, he overdosed heavily and fell into the gutter, half-dead.  By chance, a bishop was going down that way.  But when he saw the meth addict, he passed by, because he was late for a bishopric meeting.  So too a member of the Quorum of 70, en route to the temple, saw the meth addict, and crossed the street to avoid him.  But a certain drag queen was in her car and came by where he was.  When she saw him, she was moved with compassion, lifted him into her car, gave him water to drink, and took him to the hospital.  She took out her credit card, gave it to the admitting nurse and said, ‘Take care of this man.  Help him get well.  Whatever it takes, charge my card.  If you max it out, call me, and I’ll return with cash.’

“Now which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the meth addict?”

The Relief Society President said, “The one who showed mercy.”

Then Jesus told her, “Go and do likewise.”

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12 Responses to “A Thought Exercise: A “Mormonized” Version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan”

  1. Katie
    February 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    That was fun. I liked it. Bummer that an ER would max out her card before she was done saying ‘hello.’ :)

    • Katie L
      February 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

      Ha. Ain’t that the truth.

  2. Rodney
    February 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Katie,

    I really loved your post. It reminds me that when we get to caught up in our own business we don’t ask as God wants. We justify it by works but our heart fails to be involved, thus it is wasted time.

    Miss you in God’s Country :)

    • Katie L
      February 24, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

      Miss you too, Rodney. Thanks for commenting. Give love to your wife and boy for me. :)

  3. Bruce
    February 24, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    A parable squared!

  4. Jenny
    February 24, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    That is more shocking when you put it in the context of our culture now. Excellent food for thought! :)

  5. Emma Smith
    February 24, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    Woah. That is some deep thinking. Thank you for this beautiful modernized parable. Woah.

  6. Bonnie
    February 25, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    One of the most interesting things I’ve noted in my work with those who suffer poverty or other alienation from the mainstream culture is that they care for one another freely. They are much less likely to allow a friend who is homeless to remain so, if they have a couch or a floor – in fact, one of the problems of dealing with severely challenged people is that when you give them your assets to help them with their situation, they will give those assets to others they know who need them. It is really fascinating to me that you pair up these examples, because I had never taken that experience I’ve had and projected it back in time on the parable of the GS. I know that’s not what you intended, but I will be thinking about what I’ve learned about modern poverty and how the truths relate to scriptural situations. Hmmmm.

    • Kullervo
      March 4, 2013 at 7:38 am #

      Eh, I don’t know. For every poor widow who’s ready to give her last scraps to other people worse off than her, there’s a poor mean sonofabitch who’s willing to will stab someone else over the same scraps.

  7. Katie L.
    February 25, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    What a cool parallel, Bonnie! I think there are definitely some bleed-overs: wealth and prosperity is part of Mormon “purity” culture, at least that’s what I’ve observed here in Utah. So we’re less likely to care for people who are impoverished because “they’ve done it to ourselves” and so on. That was a part of what I think is going on in my retelling of “The Good Drag Queen.” :)

  8. Kim
    March 3, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    This is perfect, Katie. Well done.

  9. Rosebriars
    January 6, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    I have shared this in multiple meetings since I read it months ago and it never fails to touch someone as it touched me. The parable of the good drag queen has added so much to my understanding of the Good Samaritan.

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