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A different biblical tale carries the best Christmas message

Jim Kempton. File photo
Jim Kempton. File photo

By Jim Kempton

While we tend to think of our Christmas carols, of frosty snowmen, little drummer boys and good shepherds, these are not actually the stories Christ taught. In fact, when reading only the words attributed to Jesus, they are often as complex as a Zen koan (a dialogue, question, or statement, which is used to provoke doubt and test wisdom).

The Good Samaritan is, in many ways, one of the New Testament’s most profound parables and perhaps a Christmas carol of its own. While the Samaritan’s example is seemingly specific, there is an underlying message beneath the straightforward tale of a generous, merciful man.

We know the basic story: On the road to Jericho robbers ambushed a Hebrew traveler. They beat him to a pulp, stole his money, stripped him of his clothes and then left him for dead. A Jewish priest passed but did not help, as did a Levite (a member of the Hebrew tribe). But then a Samaritan “Saw him, he took pity on him. He bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he said to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

OK, so a nice guy helps someone out while the rich and powerful from our own neighborhood ignore the suffering of those around them. We should follow his example. But that’s the first part of this story. Christ’s deeper meaning requires us to know who the heck the Samaritans were.

What makes this selfless act of assistance significant is that Samaritans (inhabitants of Samaria) were sworn enemies of the Israelites. In today’s world they were like Belfast Catholics and Ulster Protestants, Iranian Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis, Compton Crips and South Central Bloods. They were not just guys from a different country or tribe. They hated one another, Like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Tutsis and Hutus. Greeks and Turks. White supremacists and Mexican mafia. Israelis and Palestinians.

That did not stop the Good Samaritan’s altruistic response to another human being’s suffering. He was compassionate to an enemy. And this is the more profound exhortation from Jesus. It’s easy enough to help our friends, family and even our neighbors. But showing kindness to a detested adversary? That was why Jesus used a Samaritan to make his point. In the global village, all people are our neighbors.

After he had finished telling the parable, Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The scribe answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.”

And Jesus said, “Go, and do likewise.”

May the wisdom of the Prince of Peace be with us all in 2014.

Jim Kempton hopes a Good Samaritan finds all those suffering and in need this Christmas season. And while falling far short himself, he hopes for peace and good will toward all men.

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