A Present-Day Parable
Which Can Be Understood

I have a friend who I worked with when I was a fair-haired youth. However, forty years later, what hair I still have is gray. Nevertheless, we chat each Saturday afternoon on the phone. She is the only person that I ask for a response regarding things about which I am dealing in my life. What I admire about her is that she will call it like she sees it…even if I might not concur with her insight.

Sometime ago, she ventured a comment about one of my modus operandi. Her comment was essentially a critique about me. Her observation was that I like to control things in my life. While that insight was meant as a warning, my initial response was that I don’t like disorder. Therefore, my modus operandi related to control was necessary.

Over months of our weekly chats, I have been haunted about her observation about my control issue. My friend knows about Mt. Lebanon and me. My family moved to Mt. Lebanon, PA from Pennsauken, NJ just before I entered sixth grade. I was an above average student in an average, middle-class community in Pennsauken. However, I moved into the nineteenth best school system in America and the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania. While in Mt. Lebanon, I did learn two things about me: one was that I was dumb and the other was that I was poor. Those two evaluations were singed into my brain and have affected the issue of liking everything nailed down. Until that control issue is realized, I am haunted by Mt. Lebanon.

Halfway through my journey down the yellow brick road of my life, I realized that I was neither dumb nor poor. However, to this day, I realize that it had a profound effect upon me both negatively and positively. I’m seventy-seven and still teaching at the college level. A large part of my drive is due to a small voice in my head that questions my intellect or monetary worth. The idea that I might fail at achieving a dream both haunts me and drives me. I am driven to prove myself once again about being dumb and poor. Failing at anything isn’t easily swallowed by me. How is that for being honest with you, my reader.

Teddy Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy are two of my mentors and addressed my feeling of failure. The following paragraph is called the Man in the Arena, which was a part of Roosevelt’s speech over a century ago at the Sorbonne in Paris.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Bobby’s comment is basically a condensation of that paragraph by Roosevelt. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Those two statements do address my need to succeed.

However, allow me a brief teaching moment before I go any further. There are about forty-six parables in the New Testament. In some of the gospels, the parables are repeated and in other cases, a parable is used in only gospel. Parables were teaching moments for Jesus. Instead of giving his disciples and his followers dry theological statements, he used the parables as teaching tools that the average person could grasp. Well, that was his intent. However, from the time of Jesus until today, nearly everyone that reads the parables either misnames the parables or doesn’t understand them…or both. For example, the Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates my point. It is found in only Luke 15:11-32.

For centuries, this parable has been called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Even now, most people call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That was not the message Jesus intended. The prodigal son is merely a tangential character of the parable. What Jesus wanted his listeners to grasp was that God is forgiving not that people often are prodigal and misbehave. The point of the parable is really only about God’s forgiving nature not our human nature.

Also, in Luke, there is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is one that everyone knows today and everyone except for biblical scholars knows who the Samaritans were. Most readers think that this parable is about a good guy who helped someone in trouble that had been beaten up and robbed while walking between Jerusalem to Jericho. In the parable, two Jewish people prior to the Good Samaritan saw this half dead person lying on the road in need of help but walked past the person without even stopping. The third person was the Good Samaritan, and he helped the person and took him to an inn where he could recover from being beaten.

Most readers know nothing about Samaritans. Well, they were hated by the Jews. While they had some genetic ties with Israel, they intermarried with others around the time of the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. To the listener of the Good Samaritan parable in the New Testament times, there were no good Samaritans. All Samaritans were bad. Good and Samaritans were contradictions.

The Good Samaritan

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 neighbor 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 neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Now, you are aware of the issue regarding New Testament parables. So, what is my point? This information is the backstory. I want to tell you about my 21st century parable. Well, it isn’t a story that I made up; it is historically a true parable. Allow me to begin….

Once upon a time, like a month ago, I went to visit my family in Myanmar. However, before flying to Yangon, Myanmar, I stopped in Lahore, Pakistan. I went there to visit the parents of Sandy, my web administrator. I wanted to tell them that Sandy has helped me with my webpage. In addition, Sandy arranged to have her brother drive me to the Lhewra Salt Mine.

I would be willing to bet that I have bought more Himalayan Salt Lamps than any other American. I have three in my own home and have given away another dozen to my family and friends. The mine is located northwest of Lahore. It was to be an interesting side trip before I got to see my family in Myanmar. I would spend several days in Lahore and then off to Myanmar. I merely wanted to say hello to Sandy’s family and then visit the salt mine…nothing more.

Sandy’s brother picked me up at the airport, drove me to my hotel, and then we went to his parents’ home. I told them that I was happy having Sandy helping me on my website. We chatted for a while, but then a friend of her parents stopped by. Now, I don’t remember whether there was another person that also stopped in or not. I had been up for two days, one of which I was flying from Chicago to Istanbul and then onto Lahore. I was dead tired, and jetlag was whirling in my head. Regardless, whether it was just one family friend or two, I honestly don’t recall. I needed the rest. Besides, Sandy’s brother would be driving six hours with me the next morning to the salt mine.

In the midst of all of this friendly chat, one of the visitors said, “Let’s get going” as he looked at me. Going where I thought? I wasn’t fully functioning mentally. I was doing well just staying awake. However, I went along with whatever had already been determined prior to my arrival.

Lahore Gymkhana Club

It was late in the evening, probably around 9 or 10pm that evening that we drove to a military fort often referred to as the Garrison or Lahore Gymkhana Club, which is located in the middle of Lahore. It was a large military base. However, once we went through the front gate, I didn’t see any military personnel. We parked near a restaurant area but never went in the building. Instead, we went to a row of tables next to some sort of arbor. It was a lovely place for dinner and by this time I was wide awake. Having said that, I don’t recall how many men were finally in the group: Sandy’s father along with several others. We ordered a dinner.

The first thing that they wanted to talk about was my fundraising drive to provide laptops for the two schools where my granddaughters attend in Taunggyi, Myanmar. I told them about why I was driven to do this. I also told them that I failed. There provided a litany of reasons not raising a half million dollars. Trump closed the government down when I sent my application to the IRS for my not-for-profit charity. The Internet site that would take care of the collecting of the money had the wrong web address for the site, and PayPal had some initial issue. Additionally, it was difficult for me to get the funds for schools in Myanmar, which half of all Americans don’t even know where it was located.

We talked about my efforts for most of the dinner. When it came time to have coffee, we walked a short distance to a coffee shop. Here again, we sat outside in that pleasant evening in the Garrison. I was sitting to the left of Sandy’s father as we chatted. Interestingly, Sandy called her father in the middle of our drinking coffee. He excused himself by saying it was Sandy to which I replied, “When you are finished, let me talk to her.”

A couple minutes later, he gave me his iPhone. I told Sandy that I was going to give the phone to one of her dad’s friends but wanted her to recount to him her comment about her wanting to be hired by me to have her post my essays to my webpage. She wanted that opportunity to work for me, because she thought that I was noble in my efforts to help my family and my extended family of 1250 students in Taunggyi, Myanmar.

I gave the iPhone to one of the men who was keenly interested in my endeavor. After his chat with Sandy, he said that I needed to talk to some woman about a deal that I was proposing. If they helped me raise $500,000, I would return to the States and talk to Muslims in the Chicago area and raise money for students in Lahore.

Guess who walked up to the group that were having coffee twenty minutes later, the woman with whom I needed to talk. She and I spoke for a while, and I promised her that when I got back to the States, I would write to her for her ideas and put together our plan.

That is the end of my 21st century parable. That is as close to the actual events that evening as I can recall…even though I hadn’t had more than several catnaps on the long flight that left Chicago late in the evening and flew to Istanbul and then on to Lahore.

Now, as far as any details regarding what that group of Pakistani men would agree to do to help me raise the money for 1250 student in Myanmar and what the group of Chicago Muslims would do to help Lahore student, nothing has been decided. Actually, I haven’t even gotten possible names of Muslims in Chicago. Nonetheless, I honestly believe that we can work out some sort of reciprocal agreement. If they help with students in Taunggyi, I will help them with students in Lahore.

However, what haunted me about the group of men who are friends of Sandy’s father is that they are all financially successful Muslims who were interested in students in Myanmar. There was for me a type of disconnect, which I didn’t understand.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of that area of the world. When India got their independence from Great Britain after WWII, the new government was facing social unrest. The Hindu majority of Indians didn’t like the Muslim minority. After much debate, the Indian government gave the Muslim minority sections of land in the eastern and western parts of India. Initially, the two areas were called West Pakistan and East Pakistan. However, the new names over time changed from West Pakistan, which is now Pakistan, and the East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh.

In the past number of years, the Rohingyas, who are Muslims in Bangladesh have crossed over the border between their country and Myanmar. The military government of Myanmar has killed, imprisoned, and detained thousands of the Rohingyas.

This present-day parable is about some Muslim men who are both affluent and also interested in helping some Buddhist students in spite of Myanmar government’s mistreatment of the Muslim Rohingyas along their border with Bangladesh.

The conflict that is occurring on the border is very much like what is happening on our southern border with immigrants from Central America. I have discussed both border issues in the two world religion classes that I am teaching. At least, for this group of Pakistani Muslims, they not only talk the talk, but more importantly walk the walk.

Finally, I don’t know how successful this endeavor will become. I certainly hope it will be successful for both the students of Taunggyi and Lahore. Additionally, this 21st century parable is about Good Muslims.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is the same as the Good Muslims. There are those in America and especially in Washington who don’t see an older parable and the newer one as a direct parallel. I do, but others don’t.