By RAHN ADAMS
BOONE, N.C. (June 15, 2020) – “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin” (Matthew 6:28, KJV). That verse is in all red letters.
Even though that’s the translation preferred by most evangelical Christians, I’ll go ahead and interpret it for folks who have heard the verse all their lives but don’t really understand what Jesus was saying in it.
Why are you worried about what you wear and how you look? Think about the lilies that are blooming everywhere now—how they grow on nothing but sunshine and rain, maybe a little fertilizer. Lilies don’t work for money to buy a wardrobe. They don’t even make their own clothes.
In the next verse, Jesus concludes: “And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:29, KJV). Or, not even Donald Trump can do better than nature.
Still, Trump has always gilded the lily by taking hotels, casinos, resorts, golf courses, skyscrapers and a United States that were great already, and working his electroplated magic with a thin coat of gold-leaf paint.
But here we are now. The cheap paint job is chipped beyond recognition and flecked with the blood of 117,000 COVID-19 victims. Divided America is now a steaming wasteland. Donald Trump is its wounded king.
And he doesn’t even wear a mask as he holds us up. Why should he? We all knew who he was from the start, who the wizard was behind the curtain, who the hate-mongering racist was under the white hood and robe.
The coronavirus has uncovered more than our vulnerability as an aging culture of consumers. It shows that we aren’t Lone Rangers by a long shot. We aren’t faithful friends or trusty scouts living by a strict code of honor:
“I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one. That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world. That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself. In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right. That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
“That ‘this government, of the people, by the people and for the people’ shall live always. That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number. That sooner or later, somewhere, somehow, we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken. That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever. In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”
According to Wikipedia, that was the creed guiding the Lone Ranger’s life after he and five other Texas Rangers were ambushed, all but him killed, by a band of outlaws in the radio and TV shows created by Fran Striker. The Lone Ranger first hit the airwaves in 1933. The legend’s last iteration came to theaters in 2013. Timberley and I haven’t seen that latest movie, probably because of all its unfavorable reviews.
It’s ironic that the Lone Ranger’s “possible historical inspiration was Bass Reeves, the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River.” Though that origin theory is disputed, Wikipedia notes that Reeves was known for “wearing disguises, having a Native American partner, riding a white and grey horse, giving out silver keepsakes, [and] possessing legendary marksmanship and horsemanship, etc.”
Growing up, I always liked Tonto and his painted horse Scout better than the Lone Ranger and Silver. For that matter, I always liked Mingo better than Daniel Boone. Mingo, after all, was educated, an Oxford man. But Tonto couldn’t even speak good English. And I learned in his Wikipedia article that tonto in some languages means “dumb person” or “fool,” so in some places his name was changed to Toro or Ponto. I liked him anyway.
Stories are powerful. So are the characterizations of heroes and villains in them. That was a main point made by my teacher, Dr. Bernard Brandon Scott, in the “Parables of Jesus” class I took at Ghost Ranch in 2005. To illustrate that point, Dr. Scott used the independent film Smoke Signals, based on Sherman Alexie’s book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. The movie is quirky but painfully true to life, even off the reservation.
Without ruining the story for you, the main characters—Native American youths Victor and Thomas—live out two different narratives involving the man who was their father and kind of foster father, respectively, a hero to one, a villain to the other. The friends travel together from the Pacific Northwest to the Arizona desert to learn the truth about these two conflicting tales that they have carried into manhood.
Victor and Thomas are like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or like characters in the biblical story of a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, but then was saved by someone he might have at the very least avoided under other circumstances—by a person whom he might have hated, by a human being whose suffering he might have ignored if roles had been reversed.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan was just one story of Jesus that we studied in Dr. Scott’s week-long class in the desert, but it’s the Christian teaching that the average American perhaps knows best—that a follower of Jesus Christ loves and helps his neighbor, no matter how costly or inconvenient that aid is. Throughout literature that plot device of helpless victim and good neighbor has given stories relevance.
What I learned from Dr. Scott, though, was to look at that parable not from the good neighbor’s point of view but from that of the victim who had been forsaken by two religious leaders of his own faith before being found by an unlikely savior. Furthermore, I learned to consider the perspective of Jesus’ apparent audience—not early 21st-century Americans, but a Jewish lawyer living in Roman-occupied Judea who was testing a radical rabbi.
A news story today on CBS This Morning about a black protester who carried to safety an injured white counter-protester in London over the weekend reminded me of Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan and the three Jews. I wondered how the beaten white guy felt when the black fellow threw him over his shoulder and saved his lily-white skin. I’m curious about what the victim said to his rescuer afterwards.
No, I take back those last two sentences. The only lilies that have bloomed so far this spring at either of our houses are several small patches of stella d’oro daylilies in our front yard off the mountain, and they aren’t white like Easter lilies. They’re yellow, with stella d’oro meaning “golden star” in Italian. (I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet Donald Trump likes Stella D’oros just because of the color—if not the daylilies, then the cookies of the same name.)
How would you feel? What would you say in the same predicament? Would it change your perspective? Would you expect your adversary to just keep right on walking past you? How surprised would you be if he stopped and helped you out? I apologize if those are Christian gotcha questions. At least I haven’t laid a perjury trap for you to fall into, like that shyster lawyer did for Jesus or like the Special Counsel did for Trump. No, you and I both have the right to remain silent.
Just consider the stella d’oros, either kind. They’re great, aren’t they, neighbor? With or without a mask. Right, ke-mo sah-bee?