I wrote this post yesterday after church about one of the first spiritual experiences I’ve had there in a while.
Today attended all three hours of church. Most Sundays I help care for babies after Sacrament meeting. But, this morning I sat in Relief Society with some friends and enjoyed a lesson on charity that began with the story of the Good Samaritan. As the lesson progressed to more depth about practicing charity, I kept thinking about how often we gloss over this compelling parable in Luke 10.
When our next teacher presented the Sunday School lesson about the Good Samaritan, I was surprised by the repetition.
He went through Luke 10:25-37 verse by verse and talked about how each of us is, metaphorically, the man who fell among thieves and lay on the side of the road, half-dead.
He explained that half-dead could be a metaphor for spiritually dead. My mind went back several years ago to a time when my feminist awakening produced a crisis of faith in my LDS life. In some ways I felt like I had been victim of some kind of spiritual robbery. It was a dark time where I wrestled with questions of my worth as a human being, as a daughter of an absentee Heavenly Mother, as a woman in a man’s church, in a man’s world. These things shook my LDS faith to the core.
With these memories in the front of my mind, I imagined myself as a woman who had fallen among thieves as we continued the lesson. In verse 31, a priest walks by but passes on the other side. The priest represented the church, which triggered another memory.
This time, it was about 2006 and I was sitting in an institute class in our stake, with my second baby on my lap, asking our teacher about the inequality between men and women in the church. It was only months after my internal crisis began and I was just starting to speak aloud these issues that tore at my spirit. My teacher, also the stake RS president, responded sincerely something to the effect of, “We (meaning the women in the room) have resolved these issues for ourselves and we wish you the best in your journey.” At the time, I was just grateful that I wasn’t more blatantly condemned for asking the unaskable, but today as I read about the priest leaving the man half-dead on the side of the road, I realized that the institute teacher/ RS president had been that priest to me. She had seen me half-dead and with a glance, and passed by on the other side of the road.
That may sound harsh, but I think the analogy holds. The priest in the bible story is doing is church job. He is not required by Jewish law to help this man and really thinks that the man would probably die anyway, or that if he does help him he’d be attacked as well (that’s what happens when you listen to a doubter, you start to doubt as well).
Of course the next person who walks by is a Levite, who passes by on the other side. Our teacher compared the Levite to temple workers and I did have an experience of talking with the temple matron about the temple and walking away very unsatisfied.
As we came to verse 33 where the Samaritan passes by, we discussed the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans during Christ’s life, something I’m sure I’ve heard a dozen times. And yet, this time it brought me to tears.
Samaritans were the apostates. They were outcasts, they married non-believers, they were culturally unacceptable, and yet in this story, the Samaritan was the one who could actually deal directly with the spiritually-dead man on the side of the road.
And that is what has happened to me. In my years of pain, of wondering what kind of God would create women who are physically weaker and treated as property for centuries, what positive meaning for women can the Eden story ever hold, how can the Priesthood be of God when women are objects, in these moments, it was the real life Samaritans that have helped comfort me.
Many of them are you, reading this right now. Like me, sometimes you feel marginalized, maybe you’ve left the church, maybe you’re married to a non-believer, or are single, or (gasp!) homosexual.
But real life Good Samaritans see Mormons with doubts and pain who are half-dead and don’t shirk from taking on those problems because they’ve taken them on themselves.
I believe that God really sent me that message today. As the teacher went on to explain his opinion that the Good Samaritan is Jesus, it didn’t quite ring true to me. I didn’t feel the spirit as I had in my own heart and head as I felt the last few years of my life play out in Luke’s story.
Perhaps it’s problematic that the lesson spoke to me in a subversive way about how the church and it’s most faithful members miss those of us who are half-dead on the side of the road.
But, perhaps the meaning that I was supposed to get from this lesson is that now that I can look back with some distance, I am no longer the the woman who fell among thieves.
I am the Good Samaritan.