I have heard Bible stories thousands of times. I have told them thousands more. I believe that flannel board bible stories were seeds planted in my life that grew my understanding of what faith is supposed to look like, and I am convinced that my love of a good story has its roots in the time worn practice of Sunday School flannel boards. I cut my teeth on this tradition. It saddens me to think that somewhere in a storage closet long since forgotten, there are hundreds of flannel bible characters in a box, unused in our new technology filled world. I remember the thrill of being chosen to put a character up at a critical point in the story, and the magic of sticking it to the board without tape, or staples or glue. Through child eyes, it was nothing short of a miracle. I imagine the characters now, in that box having conversations with one another.
Noah says to David, “Do you think we made a difference? Do you think they got what we were trying to teach?”
David laughs and says, “Noah, you were their favorite! All those animals…how could they not get it?”
Moses chimes in “The baby in the basket going down the river certainly caught their attention. And I used to love watching their little faces, when I parted the Red Sea!”
“You should have seen them when I walked on water!” said Peter. “They were mesmerized…until I started to sink. Their smiles faded away as they worried that I was going to drown, they were so sweet…and relieved when Jesus pulled me out.”
“Those were the good old days, when you could see the impact in their eyes as their wheels turned. I miss those days,” remembered Lazarus.
“Sometimes I wonder though,” said the Good Samaritan. “Maybe we were told so many times they got too familiar with the messages. It seems to me they have forgotten the lessons.”
The Abandoned Man replied, “I agree. I was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road and that used to bring compassion to their hearts. But lately, I don’t see it. They’ve grown up to be like the priest and the Levite, distancing themselves from the reality…indifferent and ignoring, or even despising the pain of others.”
“Wait just a minute! There is nothing wrong with that! It wasn’t our fault that we were busy and had important matters in our lives,” said the Priest.
“Certainly, they understood that then, and now they really understand it since their lives are also busy and filled with important things to do,” replied the Levite. “There is nothing wrong with prioritizing your life. You cannot take care of everyone, after all. There will always be someone else who comes along to do the less vital and dirtier work, while you are occupied in the work of the church. I say let the missionaries do it, that’s what they are good at. I mean it all turned out alright in the story, didn’t it?”
And so the imaginary conversation goes on and I am immersed in it…the parables, and the characters conversing with one another and sharing their favorite memories of children engrossed in story. Yet, I wonder if the Good Samaritan is right. Have I forgotten? Do I know who my neighbor is?
In the story in Luke 10:25-37 , after questioning Jesus and trying to test him, a lawyer hears him say this about inheriting eternal life. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” True to lawyer form, (I couldn’t resist) he questions the meaning of the word neighbor. However, rather than give a straight answer, Jesus tells a story with hidden lessons, but a clear message. He brilliantly uses the most offensive, most-unlike-the-lawyer foe he can think of…a Samaritan. He flips the man’s prejudices on their head when he makes the Samaritan the GOOD guy…because everyone KNEW the Samaritans were the BAD guys. They were not to be trusted under any circumstance. They had their own religion. They lived and believed differently than the Jews, and people went miles out of their way to avoid Samaria when they were on a journey. The fact that the Samaritan was the one with compassion for the abandoned man, and the Priest and Levite were not, challenged everything this lawyer believed.
Yet, the message of the story was clear enough that when Jesus asked him, “Which of these three do you think was the man’s neighbor?”
The lawyer easily answered, “The one who showed mercy.”
Jesus responded with, “Go and do likewise.”
The story was about the hearts of the men on the road that day, not about the differences between them in status, or in beliefs, or homelands. The lesson was and is about caring for those in desperate places who are in need… going above and beyond in lavish-follow-through care…not because of who someone is or is not, but because their pain is ours. Because Jesus is moved by his compassion, and he plants that seed within us so we will be moved too. If you break it down, as I like to do: Co-means together. Pati-means to suffer with. Sion-means the act of.
Compassion- the act of co-suffering with.
This is more than feeling pity; this is taking action because there is a need to alleviate the pain of another. It is what the Samaritan did that the religious leaders did not, and that is what has me wondering if I ever learned the lessons of the flannel board at all. It has me asking, ‘Which side of the road am I walking on?’ and ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The answers to those questions cause me pause, because the Samaritans are well represented in the flannel board box…the only leper that said thank you, the woman at the well and the town she brought back to meet Jesus, and of course the Good Samaritan. They are not left out or separate, they are sought after and loved.
Back in the flannel board box the conversation continues…
“When I found the ‘living water’ the kids looked puzzled. But I knew that one day they would find it themselves and thirst no more,” said the Woman at the Well, “Compassion saved my life.”
“And healed my wounds,” whispered the Leper.
“And overflowed from me,” suggested the Good Samaritan.
Then flannel board Jesus proclaimed, “And it will from them too one day. The lessons were learned; they have just been forgotten is all. They will not stay hidden forever. One day their eyes will be opened and they will SEE, and on that day compassion will move again.”
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