The sellers of Big Issue magazine appear in my life at amazingly regular intervals. Each seller is different of course, but each seller is, by definition, a person who has gone on some sort of a personal downward journey and is trying to make sense of life in a capitalist society by selling this magazine and retaining a commission. Good on them.
Yet, first up when I see them, I think, “Why bother buying?” To me, it appears as a left leaning piece of editorial which hits at everything I’ve sought to achieve as a small business capitalist. And often I will walk by. This ignores the fact that the magazine is irrelevant to the equation. It is the person selling the magazine who is important.
And it is my reaction which is the point of discussion here. I am using my view of Big Issue precisely to avoid what should be the focus of my attention. The seller.
Which is why the misnamed parable “The Good Samaritan” could be a way in which I determine what is really important, as I hurry through life past Big Issue sellers and others who have experienced loss, a death of ideals, dreams or ambition.
A lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered with a summary of loving God anlawyer pursues the issue of “neighbor” and Jesus tells this story:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So, likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave it to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’ Which of the three do you think,” Jesus asks, “proved neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? “
The lawyer replies, “the one who showed mercy on him”. Jesus: “Go and do likewise”
The downward journey person, robbed, beaten and left for dead is a loser and the focus of the story. Jerusalem to Jericho is physically, a 3,300 feet downward slope. The downward journey is compounded by assault and battery. But wait, two spiritual persons are coming by. They have commandments, observances, ritual to draw them closer to God. Fat lot of good that does to the victim. It’s walk by time.
Another traveler comes by. There’s all sorts of interesting by-plays here, in that the Samaritans are alienated from Jews and seen as losers.
So as this third passer-by stops and gives aid, it is one loser helping another. The Samaritan is entering into the pain of the victim and pouring himself out because he understands what has taken place.
Traveller number one, (I happen to see this as a picture Jesus gives of his coming death) has been taken by the world and beaten to a pulp. In the parable, the Samaritan is a piece of middle eastern flotsam and recognizes suffering when he sees it.
This is all about seeing our essential lostness in the world.
We surround ourselves with the trappings of “belonging”. Trophy cars, houses, flat screens, wives, even religion- all to show how we ”belong”.
We do this to deny or disguise our essential lostness and alienation from God and from one another.
It is only as we look at the half dead in the story, the Big Issue seller, or Jesus the loser being crucified and see them in the light of our own lostness, that we can pour ourselves out into the world in any sort of meaningful way and realize that losing ourselves in that, is actually the roadmap to finding, being found and discovering true life both temporal and eternal.