In his book The Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell sets forth two ways to see the world. The vision of the anointed sees society as the source of our problems. These problems can only be fixed by the “anointed,” society’s elites who alone can bring the world to perfection. We can call this the utopian vision. By contrast, the tragic vision sees that the world’s problems are not just the result of bad social engineering; there are fundamental flaws in mankind. Man is selfish. Societal actions always involve tradeoffs.
The Vision of the Anointed is not a book about theology, although theology undergirds that basic distinction between the utopian vision and the tragic vision. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins by acknowledging the tragic vision: there’s a man in the ditch. He’s dying.
The story is not just about a single man. The man in the ditch is man; he is mankind. He is anthropos, the name given to our first father, Adam. Thus the man in the ditch is you and me. This is the tragic vision, which in theological terms we call original sin or inherited sin.
It’s the source of the lust you feel, and the anger that sometimes rages. Inherited sin drives you to pride and despair, envy and self-righteous indignation. It leads to name-calling on the playground and in the bedroom, it drives divorces, ends friendships, starts wars, and fires that ravage all that we once held dear. The tragic vision is the force in man and the world that leads to violent rebels stealing what another man has, beating him to the edge of death and dumping him in the ditch to die, alone. The tragic vision, original sin, inherited sin, ends with anthropos in a grave, man returned to the dust from which he was made.
There is another vision besides these two. The utopian vision is folly; we cannot create heaven on earth through better government. The tragic vision is real. But there is another vision that sees beyond the tragic vision. It’s what Jesus speaks of when He says at the beginning of today’s Gospel, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it.” This vision, the eyes that see, is the Vision of the Messiah, or today we could call it the Vision of the Good Samaritan.
Into the wasteland comes a hero. To a bleak world of muggers and mugged, abusers and abused, comes a Messiah. There are moral lessons to learn from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to be sure, but the story is about something much deeper. It’s about someone who comes from the outside, a foreigner, who rescues the dying anthropos, who brings healing to a mankind incapable of freeing itself from its self-made tragedy.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and He comes to you, in your ditch. He comes to you with your heart problems, and to you with your heartbrokenness. He comes to you with your struggling child, and to you with your family strife. He comes to you in the darkness of the night, and to you at the end of your life.
At the heart of God is mercy. He will not leave man in the ditch.
But first comes the Law. The Priest and the Levite pass by the man in the ditch. On a human level, you can’t blame them. The man is going to die, and the same thugs who did this are probably lurking nearby. But the story isn’t about two selfish men who look out for their own interests, followed by a nice Samaritan who helps, with the moral, “Be the nice guy.” Verily you should be the nice guy. But the story is about these men in their office.
The Priest and the Levite are officers of the Law. Not the civil law, like policemen or judges. These are officers of God’s Law. The Priest and the Levite govern the affairs of the temple. And all of the temple sacrifices were previsionary and insufficient. You’ve heard the demands of the Law: “‘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.’”
These demands are comprehensive: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. What you focus on and obsess about, that is really your god. You have loved yourself first, and your neighbor second if at all. It is a delusion that you are a good person. It is delusion to suppose God is pleased with your life. Thus the priest and the levite pass by. The Law cannot help you. You have been judged and found wanting. The verdict of God’s Law is guilty, and you are left in the ditch to die.
The Good Samaritan then comes, and he is no parabolic figure of the utopian vision, as though if only more people would stop and help, we could make this world perfect. The Good Samaritan is a figure instead of what I’m calling the Heroic Vision or the Messianic Vision. The Hero comes from the outside and rescues us.
But it’s not just a vision as in an idea. Jesus says to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see.” In other words, they’re seeing it. They are seeing the parable play out before their eyes. In Jesus, the Hero has come, the vision becomes reality. The Hero has not just come to our ditch but entered into it. That’s the incarnation, when God comes from the outside and becomes Himself anthropos, God is made man and enters the tragic vision, becomes part of the human tragedy.
The crucifixion is the deepest playing out of the human tragedy, where a man is abandoned by his friends, mocked and ridiculed, beaten and stabbed and killed. But the Hero emerges from the grave not just alive, but made perfect. And now He is preparing a place for us, the place where the tragic vision is just a bad dream which dissipates as the fog of night recedes.
The Messianic Vision is real. Jesus is our Hero who is the answer to all of societies ills and all of our sins. He became sin, He became death, and the power of it was destroyed. The ditch has lost its power. The thieves cannot hurt you. He has carried you on His own donkey to the inn, the Church. He has provided for our healing, and He has promised to return to finish the job.
Rejoice, and laugh in the face of tragedy. Jesus is returning. And the Church says, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” +INJ+