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Ever thought of parables as jokes?

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Description: Many parables were meant to surprise - just like the punchline of a good joke. A retelling of the Good Samaritan offers fresh perspective.

You've probably never thought of parables as jokes - and clearly they're not. Yet many parables were meant to surprise, even to shock - just like the punchline of a good joke. It’s the surprise twist that catches us out. With a joke, no surprise equals no laugh. For parables, no surprise means … well, what does it mean? Try the following.


Car breakdown

When their car broke down, a family of four was stranded in a lonely country road. The two under-five children were already fractious because the day was hot and they had been cooped up in safety seats for a couple of hours. The unmarried couple had half expected their beaten up old banger to conk out, but the journey was essential as they were moving in the hope of finding better work prospects.


Jack - the man - tried all he knew to fix the car, but nothing would coax the engine back to life. All he did was get himself filthy - not that he’d been that clean to start with. The whole family wore clothes that would have been rejected by a charity shop. Finally giving up, Jack reluctantly took the family’s skip-rescued suitcases from the boot while Betty - his partner - extracted the kids, both of whom instantly began crying.


The first car

After a long time waiting, a car came into view - a big car more than capable of taking them all. Both Betty and Jack thumbed frantically and the driver clearly saw them. He was a bishop on route to an important function and really didn’t want to stop. Somebody else will be along soon, he told himself. I’m the guest of honour. I can’t be late and let down all the other important guests. So he drove on


The second car

It was an hour before another car came and, by this time, the family was getting desperate; the children highly agitated. A woman was driving. She was a leading light in the local church - on the governing and several other important committees. But that was only part of it. She took active roles in everything from Bible reading to fund raising. Many people told her that the church couldn’t do without her. She saw the father and mother at the roadside, both anxiously thumbing. After slowing and looking over the parents and upset children, she rechecked her mirrors and the road ahead. There was no one in sight - no one to see what she was doing. She too drove on.


The third car

After another hour, a third car came along. The male driver was an outspoken atheist. He was often in the media telling believers that they were either poor saps lost in fairyland or out and out hypocrites. When he saw the family, he immediately pulled over. He listened to Jack before squeezing everyone and the suitcases into his car. Along the way, Jack said that the breakdown was a real problem as he’d been hoping to find work in the area. The atheist didn’t say much but took them to a local motel. Once there, he paid for a week’s lodging and gave Betty money for food and fresh clothing. He then arranged and paid for a hire car to be brought so Jack could begin his search for work. Before he left, the atheist said that he’d check back in a few days to see how things were going.


Shocking and offensive

Of course, this updated version of the Good Samaritan can never be a complete surprise because it is so well known. We could guess what was coming as soon as the bishop failed to stop. Maybe, though, this version gives us a better taste of the parable’s impact on Jesus’ first hearers. Many may well have hated Samaritans. To have had a Samaritan made hero and Jewish religious leaders derided as hypocrites was both shocking and offensive. So how do we feel now the story commends an atheist and exposes how easy it is for Christians to look the other way?

Being judgemental isn’t the answer. All of us fall short on occasions and, as Jesus said when the teachers of the law wanted to stone an adulterous woman, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her' (John 8.7).

The challenge

Sadly, there’s no shortage of poor, broken, vulnerable, lost, hurting and marginalised people. They may not be waving at us from broken down cars in lonely country roads, but have we the compassion to pause and really look? From the massive efforts made by churches all over to give practical help – especially during the coronavirus pandemic – the answer has to be ‘yes’. A ‘yes’ that needs to keep on echoing, everywhere, every day.






Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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