Jesus’ Sleight of Hand
— By Janet Frick —
“But he got to pass the Bibles out, so someone else should get to put them back on the shelf!”
‘Are we going to do the attendance stickers today? Can I go first?”
“But she already had two turns. That’s not fair!”
One thing I have discovered about teaching Sunday School is that it is a constant opportunity to challenge my own faith understanding as I seek to bring ideas down to a tween level, as i look at Bible passages with fresh eyes, and think about “what one or two things do I want the class to remember after we are done today (while hopefully we have a bit of fun)?” One thing that never fails, is that kids and teens (and, of course, adults too) care about what is FAIR. If someone else broke a rule, they should be the one to deal with the consequences, not me. If it’s not my mess, why should I have to clean it up? Why should I be made to feel guilty for the bad actions of other people?
These questions, of course, are ones we might ponder as we reflect on the concept of reparations, and as we seek, as a justice-loving Christian community, to set an example of repairing past injustices done to those in our city. The concept of reparations, of course, is one that many adults struggle with or find challenging. How can we discuss it with our kids in a way that will make sense to them?
“What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?” Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”Excerpt from Luke 10:25-37
One Bible story that might prove useful, as families engage with their own kids in age-appropriate conversations about reparations and injustice in the Athens community, is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). While this is a story we all know quite well, I must confess that I had read this passage dozens, if not hundreds of times, before I realized the pedagogical sleight of hand that Jesus pulled with the expert in the law, to whom he told this parable: Jesus answered a different question than the one he was asked.
In the story, the expert in the law who was quizzing Jesus wanted to justify himself — to “prove that he was right”, as one translation tells it, after confirming that he knows the greatest commandments; love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. So he asks Jesus the fateful question; ‘And who is my neighbor?”
The parable that Jesus tells is a classic story, but upon reflection, it’s a straight-forward example of reparations. The Samaritan who came to the aid of the injured man was not responsible for his injuries. It wasn’t his fault the man had been beaten and robbed. But he acted – why? Verse 33 tells us: “But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.” He took a significant amount of time, used a significant number of personal resources, spent his own money, and took responsibility for the care and recovery of the injured man. He gave *two full days’ wages* to the innkeeper for lodging and expenses, and promised to pay more if needed. The Samaritan had no personal responsibility for this, but did it anyway, out of compassion and a sense of doing what he could to right a wrong done to a fellow human being.
This is where Jesus pulls his teaching trick. The original question had been ‘Who is my neighbor?”, a question meant to limit or constrain the scope of who we “have to” love. But Jesus’ answer was: ‘Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
In the way of following Jesus, a neighbor is not a person you can define – not a person you can put into a box or check off a list, a list that you can limit. A neighbor is not someone else. “Being a neighbor” is something that WE do. It is OUR responsibility to “be a neighbor” to others, and this requires seeing others with compassion and with extravagant generosity of spirit and, yes, of resources. Being a neighbor is something we do. It might not “look fair”, but it’s about loving with the same sweeping generosity with which we have been loved.
So when the topic of reparations comes up, either in our own considerations or in conversations with our kids, let’s all look to the Good Samaritan as an example of how to see with compassion, to love generously, and how to BE a neighbor to those we encounter.