“Once upon a time … And they lived happily ever after”. Everyone loves a story. We learn them from childhood, and some people – like me – can’t help but collect them. I collect stories like people collect stamps. Like stamps, they stick! But there’s no point collecting stamps if no one sees them, or stories if no one hears (or reads) them. So, I decided to start this blog.
I have ten posts already written that could have been number 1. So why did I choose this story? Because as a story-teller I am in good company. Jesus was a story-teller. He told a special kind of story called a parable. The English Christian writer and comedian Adrian Plass says somewhere that: “Parables are stories that keep you entertained on the front door step while the truth slips in by a side-window”. It’s a wonderful definition, because a parable is a story with a twist. It’s meant to challenge us. It’s meant to disturb us. It’s meant to change us – and change us for the better.
In 2016 I used Gary Inrig’s 1991 book “The Parables” in our Hostel Bible study. One of the twelve parables he includes is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Inrig discusses the parable using the letter “C”: Compassion, Care and Comfort, Commitment, Cost. It’s well-worth reading his book.
The parable (in Luke 10:25-29) is very well known. It begins like this:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’”.
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
That’s a great question. So how does Jesus answer it? With a story. Or, more particularly, with a parable: The Parable of the Good Samaritan. You can read this portion for yourself (Luke 10:30-35).
If Jesus walked into one of our Churches today and was asked that question, I wonder if He might respond like this:
One Sunday morning a man was going from his seat in church to morning tea, when he fell into the hands of the robber named dementia. It stripped him of his memory and stopped him in his tracks.
The Minister happened to be going to morning tea, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, an Elder, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But an old woman on a walking frame, as she shuffled slowly by, came to where the man was. And when she saw him, she had compassion on him. She went to him and bandaged his confusion, pouring on the oil and wine of her soft speech and her gentle touch. Then she put the man on her own frame, and took him to a nearby table. She took care of him: bringing him a cup of tea, and a biscuit, sitting alongside him, having a long conversation without any words.
Returning to the account in Luke’s gospel (10:36 ff.) we read:
Jesus asked: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robber?” The expert in the law replied: “The one who had mercy on him”. Jesus told him: “Go and do likewise”.
As a Chaplain who is called to be “a bearer of hope and joy” I do strive to be a good neighbour – or to quote the expert in the law “to show mercy”.
Being a neighbour to someone with dementia certainly definitely involves Inrig’s 5 “C’s”: Compassion, Care and Comfort, Commitment, and Cost.
However, I would personally add three more (which I’ll expand in later posts):
Courage: to journey with others in the land of dementia.
Cheerfulness: to never lose your sense of humour.
Consistency: to daily fulfil your high calling as a neighbour.
Being a neighbour definitely involves those 8 “C” words. All of them are Critical.
But look at the parable once more – Jesus’ original or my version. Read the parable carefully. What is the very first thing the Samaritan does? What’s the most Critical thing? Have you spotted it? Please don’t miss it!
In three words: Don’t pass by!
That’s what the Samaritan did! That’s why he is commended as a model neighbour. He cared for the wounded man physically and emotionally. That’s easy to see in the story. Within residential Aged Care here in Australia we’re pretty good at caring for people with dementia physically, and we don’t do a bad job caring for them emotionally.
But the Samaritan also cared intellectually and spiritually. Firstly, he used his intellect to overcome the irrational and bitter hatred between Samaritans and Jews. We need to use our intellect to overcome the ignorance and stigma around dementia.
Secondly, the Samaritan cared spiritually, recognizing that the Jew was a man made in the image of God, just as he was. We need to care for the spirit, recognizing that a person living with dementia is also made in the image of God. Dementia may destroy their brain and their body, but take heart: the person’s spirit is whole and well and strong.
So what’s our call? Don’t pass by!
That’s how we can be a good neighbour. That’s how we can care for those living with dementia: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
It is my hope and my prayer that this blog helps each of us to fulfil God’s high calling on each of our lives:
Don’t pass by!