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  • Writer's pictureChristian Insights 4 You

Ever thought of parables as jokes?

Updated: Feb 20

Description: Many parables were crafted to surprise, much 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 share a common element of surprise, even shock, akin to a well-crafted punchline that catches us off guard. No punchline equals no impact.

Consider the following reinterpretation of the Good Samaritan story:

Car breakdown

A family of four found themselves stranded on a lonely country road after their car broke down. The two under-five children were already restless because the day was hot and they had been cooped up in safety seats for a couple of hours. The unmarried couple had feared that their beaten up old banger might fail them, 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 appeared and, by this time, the couple was getting desperate, with the children highly agitated. A woman was driving. She was a leading light in the local church, on both the governing and other important committees. But that was only part of it. She took active roles in everything from leading Bible study groups to fund raising. Many people told her that the church couldn’t do without her. She soon noticed the father and mother at the roadside, both anxiously thumbing. After slowing and looking them over, 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, often in the media telling believers they were either poor saps lost in fairyland or out and out hypocrites. When he saw the family, he immediately pulled over and listened while Jack and Betty told him their car troubles. Before driving on, he squeezed everyone and the suitcases into his car. Along the way, Jack explained 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 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 the parable is so well known. We could guess what was coming as soon as the bishop failed to stop. Nonetheless, it does echo the impact the story had on its first hearers. Many would have hated Samaritans. To have had a Samaritan made hero, and Jewish religious leaders derided as hypocrites, would have been shocking and offensive to Jesus' audience.

So how do we feel now the story commends an atheist and exposes how easy it is for Christians to look the other way?

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 the challenge remains: do we have the compassion to pause and truly see them? From the massive efforts made by churches all over to give practical help, the answer has to be ‘yes’. A ‘yes’ that needs to keep on echoing, everywhere, every day.


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