Fellow Passengers: Today’s Primary Passage* (Luke 10:25-37) transports me to the Ramtop Mountains of Discworld, Terry Pratchett’s alternative universe depicted in his forty-plus novels. The mountains provide the setting for the annual witch trials in A Hat Full of Sky, but if you haven’t read Pratchett, you need to know these are not witches or witch trials of the Salem variety. In Discworld, witches are the healers, the problem solvers, the sages, the ones who get people out of binds. They are a curious lot, feared and respected, necessary to maintaining good life in communities throughout the cities and towns and countryside of the Chalk and the Downs of Discworld. Tiffany Aching, witch in training throughout several of these books, learns that the art of witchcraft is not about casting spells and waving wands, but consists more often than not of doing chores no one else will do, emptying what’s full and filling what’s empty, seeing what others can’t or won’t see. In A Hat Full of Sky she is tasked with ridding their world of the malevolent hiver, a being that invades communities and captures the souls of people. When she finally accomplishes the task, she explains to her mentor, Granny Weatherwax, what it felt like. It was like telling myself a story. Granny nodded, and told her, There’s always a story. . . It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.
I think Jesus had a bit of Granny Weatherwax in him. He went about doing the miracle work of the Kingdom, which in essence involved doing the work no one else would do, emptying what was full and filling what was empty, seeing what others couldn’t or wouldn’t see. And he told stories. Today’s passage gives us a story that has woven its way into the fabric of our culture; what more could be said about the Good Samaritan than has already been said in thousands upon thousands of sermons and Sunday School lessons and commentaries? Instead of trying to come up with something new to say about the story, I simply want to note the brilliance of Jesus the story-teller. James McClendon, one of the primary influences on my understanding of Christianity, expounded on this gift in his work on narrative theology and narrative ethics. Jesus grew up in a narrative world; no doubt his mother and father relayed to him dozens upon dozens of bedtime stories relating the pre-history of creation and fall and flood, patriarchal journeys, narratives of liberation and conquest, the up and down cycle of judges and kings, exile and return. So when a lawyer came to him to try and engage him in some legal casuistry, some rational theological discourse on the possibilities of salvation and eternal life, Jesus politely refused to take the bait. He looked around and saw that what the people needed was not another credal commentary, another tedious analysis of orthodoxy. What they needed was a new story. So when asked about the requirements for eternal life and the significance of love of neighbor, he reached back into that treasure trove from his childhood and he told a surprising tale. He took a narrative from the time of the kings, involving the continuing warfare and animosity between Samaria and Judah. He changed the story, and he changed the world. He turned it into a story about healing, the healing of deep wounds caused by the historical traumas of racial and religious bigotry. That choice of story has indeed changed the world in remarkable ways.
I just booked our tickets to go out to Denver in a few weeks to visit an old friend, Tim Storey. He was in my youth group during my first stint as a youth minister at Gashes Creek. Tim, who is now a political scientist analyzing state government policies and facilitating leadership development work for state legislatures, is at heart a great story-teller. I’ll never forget something he said to me during that inaugural summer of my ministry: All you need is a good story. I don’t think he was making a pun on his own name. He meant it; whatever happens in life, the thing that will be most useful to us in the end is a good story. It’s the wisdom of Tiffany Aching and Granny Weatherwax. It’s the wisdom of Jesus. So the next time somebody tries to trap you into a no-win debate on the intricacies of theological orthodoxy, stop and tell them a story, or ask them to tell you one of theirs. Everything’s got a story.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.