Sanitized for your protection! That’s what the paper band proclaims that’s wrapped around the Gospel this morning.
Now I realize that opening a sermon with the visual of a bathroom fixture is probably not kosher, but it serves well the image of what we’ve done to the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’ve sanitized it for our protection and to our detriment.
The Bible is full of great stories that are part of the vernacular – stories and parables that have been passed down from generation to generation, have been acted out in countless pageants, been converted to coloring pages for children or comic books for kids, and along the way, lost their edge.
Apparently a publisher recently released an edition of Huck Finn and scrubbed the N-word and replaced it with the slightly sanitized, “slave.” Washington Post writer, Jonathan Capehart, recently made this comment:
I completely understand why NewSouth Books [did that] and it's a decision I completely disagree with. As my colleague Alexandra Petri notes in a characteristically clever post, "This is like changing War and Peace to Peace, because war is unpleasant to remember, or removing World War I from All Quiet on the Western Front." She adds, "If we keep updating things to reflect our current sensitivities, where do we stop?"
Petri speaks for me when she writes:
Huckleberry Finn is uniquely marvelous because it is of its time yet manages to transcend it. In spite of the limitations of vocabulary, cultural expectations, and racial stereotypes, it lays bare the inhumanity of slavery through the power of satire. To remove it from this context is to strip it of its power -- and to needlessly whitewash a period that deserves no whitewashing.
But I wouldn't trade that pain for a cleaned-up version of history in order to make me or anyone else feel better. Maybe it's the journalist in me, but I prefer the unvarnished truth to one sanitized for my protection.
Maybe it’s the Bible geek in me, but I prefer the unvarnished and caustic words of Christ to a parable sanitized for my protection.
Here again the parable of the “Good Samaritan” but this version has it set in Gainesville, Georgia…
One of the ministers said, "Preacher, tell us again what we have to do to go to heaven." Jesus replied, "You're a minister. What do you say?"
The minister immediately went on autopilot: "The Good Book makes that perfectly clear: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself.'" Said Jesus: "You have correctly stated what God requires of you, sir; do that and I assure you that you will go to heaven."
"And," said the minister, with mock sincerity, "exactly who is my neighbor?"
"Now, you tell me," said Jesus, "which one was that man's neighbor?" There was a palpable silence in the air as Jesus and the minister stared at each other.
"I guess it was that [Negro]," the minister reluctantly acknowledged.
"Then," Jesus replied, "why don't you go, and act the way you know you should."
I should scrap my beloved and oft imitated benediction and simply close each service with that phrase: Why don’t you go, and act the way you know you should.
Here’s an interesting nuance: in the 1950s version of the story, the minister responds to Jesus’ question by naming the person who was the neighbor – the old Negro, but in the actual parable, when the lawyer is asked the same question, he can’t bring himself to say “Samaritan” and instead says, “the one who showed him mercy.”
Unlike the most memorable line from that movie, we can handle the truth of Jesus’ words but only after we hone the context and lay bare the affront they convey.
I asked those at Panera Bread this most recent Tuesday where they saw themselves in the story. Given that we could all afford an overpriced cup of coffee, it’s no surprise that we saw ourselves as either the Levite, the lawyer, the Samaritan, a person in the crowd watching the discourse, or even the trusting innkeeper – I’d guess a show of hands right now might produce similar results – none of us identified with the mugged and beaten person in the ditch. That’s really no surprise, and I’m not going to attempt a guilt-trip just because we’re well-off Americans – but I would direct your attention to the fact that we are a minority.
Let’s take a look at some of the truth we’re prepared to handle:
First: How did the Samaritan care for the person robbed and beaten? With generous and practical assistance. He bandaged the wounds, gave the victim a ride to the inn and cared for him. He assumed responsibility for the person’s most basic needs until they were well enough to care for themselves. This isn’t life-long welfare, or entitlement, or any other dignity decaying program – it’s help when needed, plenty of it, and aid that returns the victim to their former life – as they live it, not how we think they should.
Secondly: There’s no mention of bringing the poor guy to church or doing a little preaching in exchange for the help. What was perhaps most offensive to Jesus’ audience was that the Samaritan was indeed preaching the Gospel – just not using words.
And that’s what we’ve sanitized for our protection – grace – and in doing so we’ve all climbed out the ditch and onto the curb to watch the story with sanitized eyes rather than seeing ourselves in the muck of life.
Grace. God is moved by pity. God is love. God cares for us with all the dirt and grime and bugs and grunge of our lives – for God needs nothing sanitized for God’s grace.