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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Preaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan pt. 2

If familiarity breeds contempt, then we must hate a lot of what the bible has to say. Yesterday I talked about the familiar interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. But how do we get around the familiarity and get to the point that is actually being made?

I started thinking about how parables work and one of the main tools that make parables effective is the reversal of expectations. Another kind of lesson-story that uses the same device is fables. So I started the sermon by recounting Aesop's famous fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. The hare mocks the tortoise for being slow. The tortoise challenges the hare to a race and soon they're off. The hare runs far ahead and stops for a rest while the tortoise plods on. The hare wakes up and dashes off only to reach the finish line just ahead of the tortoise and win the race. That just goes to show you that rabbits are faster than turtles.

Changing the ending of the Tortoise and the Hare story brings about a sense of unfamiliarity. But that's the ending that people expected to hear. A rabbit is clearly faster than a tortoise. The fable gets its sharp point by reversing our expectations and creating a sense of disorientation. In the book, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath refer to this as violating a schema; which means that standard expectations are exploded and replaced with the new idea. It's a very sticky way to communicate an idea, but it only works the first time you do it. When the fable or parable becomes the schema, violating it is difficult.

So, my first step was to make everyone aware of the schema, the presuppositions that exist around the parable of the Good Samaritan. We assume that the point of the story is to tell us to be good people and help those in need. We assume that we should mimic the Good Samaritan in the story -- and that is one of the points that come from the story. But the weird thing is that Jesus is using the story to answer a question - the question is "Who is my neighbor?" The words of Jesus at the end of the parable, "Go and do likewise." Don't really answer the question. They tell us that we should be merciful, which is good, but that's not the answer that the expert in the law was looking for.

We'll have to go back a bit to find the answer to the question posed.

How do you violate schemas to make points? What do you do when the violation has become the new schema?

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