I’m not a Mormon, nor am I a fan of Mormon teachings (although I know and love quite a few Mormons). But that’s not what this post is about. Read on…
Some years back, my comedy act Mitch & Allen did a live show sponsored by a group of churches in Ogden, Utah. We’d been there twice before and built a strong following, so this time they moved us to a large university auditorium. When we got there, it was standing-room-only!
Scary, but cool.
We were a faith-based team, so churches expected us to close with a message. As always, I sought God’s guidance, but the answer I got was so dicey, I questioned whether I’d heard correctly (I’m always cautious not to confuse my “vibes” with God’s leading).
The performance went well. In fact, we received a standing ovation. Then, as the applause died down, I stepped up to the microphone. My Bible was still marked where I’d been reading before the program, at Luke 10:30-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I shot up an emergency “are you sure about this, God?” and got an unnerving, “Duh, Mitch” in response. “Well, OK, then,” I brain-whispered.
What I was nervous about was this: The crowd was made up primarily of non-Mormons, a minority in Utah, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There are two common strains of spiritual pride in Utah: Mormon “We’re-the-only-true-Church” pride, and non-Mormon “We’re-the-people-who-left-that-false-church” pride (a large percentage of Christians there are ex-Mormons). My heart was with the minority. In fact, I’d been asked to consider pastoring a church in Ogden and had studied Mormonism’s unorthodox teachings at length. So I was as surprised as anyone when God led me to re-tell the story in Luke, Chapter 10, as…
The Parable of the Good Mormon.
I felt like I was beating sheep. Because so many of those ex-Mormons had been disowned by their families for leaving “the true Church,” had lost jobs and community standing, had given up everything to do what they believed was right. And there I was, telling them the parable of a “good Mormon” who compassionately aided a stranger when other “godly” people passed him by.
When I finished, there was deadly silence. I began to explain: We think of samaritans (with a small “s”) as good guys. But in Jesus’s time, Samaritans (with a big “S”) were a Jewish schism—just as Mormonism is a Christian schism—one that had reinvented Judaism and labelled themselves the only true Jews. Result? Jews hated them. And they hated Jews. So why did Jesus cast a Samaritan as his hero?
To make a point.
It’s not knowing the right stuff that makes us good or righteous, it’s what’s in our hearts. The Jewish prophets had been gifted with revelations from God, and the Samaritans had not (Jesus acknowledged this). But that didn’t automatically make all Jews good, or all Samaritans bad. What mattered to God, Jesus insisted, was the disposition of a person’s heart.
“OK, go on…” said the sea of silent faces before me.
This story will conclude on Monday.