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  • Veranita Alvord

i put him all into my arms

*"The Good Samaritan" by Vincent Van Gogh

The Good Samaritan is a story of rescue, love for the stranger and a willingness to help someone else without receiving reward. The parable exhibits some of the best Christian attributes: offering hospitality to strangers; extravagant generosity; aid and help to someone in need. The Samaritan offers these gifts across racial and ethnic boundaries as Samaritans in the Ancient Near East were seen as low-down, dirty, no good people who worshipped God in the wrong place. Jesus tells this parable in Luke 10:25-37. It's not found in any other gospel. Here is the poet, e.e. cummings' rendition of the parable:

a man who had fallen among thieves lay by the roadside on his back dressed in fifteenthrate ideas wearing a round jeer for a hat fate per a somewhat more than less emancipated evening had in return for consciousness endowed him with a changeless grin whereon a dozen staunch and leal citizens did graze at pause then fired by hypercivic zeal

sought newer pastures or because swaddled with a frozen brook of pinkest vomit out of eyes which noticed nobody he looked as if he did not care to rise one hand did nothing on the vest its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt while the mute trouserfly confessed a button solemnly inert. Brushing from whom the stiffened puke i put him all into my arms and staggered banged with terror through a million billion trillion stars.

This can be read as a powerful condemnation of racial hatred. The poem was written in the mid 1920's and when black citizens of the US were guaranteed the right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. In practice, there were many parts of the country where attempts by people of color to exercise their right to vote was met with violence. Cummings' "Samaritan" stumbles through a million, billion stars in terror, referring to our difficulty in living up to the symbols of the United States. Perhaps, Christians have trouble living up to the symbols of our own faith as well-hospitality, generosity, kindness.

This Irish Rune (in honor of St. Patrick's Day) reminds us to see the stranger as Jesus in disguise:

I saw a stranger today.

I put food for him the the eating place,

And drink in the drinking place,

And music in the listening place.

In the Holy Name of the Trinity

He blessed myself and my house,

My good and my family.

And the lark said in her warble,

Often, often, often

Goes Christ in the stranger's guise

O, oft and oft and oft,

Goes Christ in the stranger's guise.

On a lark...consider listening to "Lark Ascending" by Vaughan Williams and contemplate strangers who might be Jesus in disguise.

Grace and Peace,


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