Bob Dylan and the Parable of Showing Mercy

I grew up listening to Bob Dylan on 8-track tapes in our Chevy station wagon as we crisscrossed Montana to attend every Noxon HS basketball game, lulled to sleep by the familiar voice and then awakening to it later as we bumped down our rocky dirt road arriving home.

My parents had given away all their records when they got saved, so that Slow Train Coming was probably the first non-church music that my pastor father found acceptable. Dylan was the soundtrack of my childhood, dispensing wisdom and theology that have spoken truth to me in ways that I only later realized were sometimes unrecognizable to friends raised with other voices. 

As I seek to navigate my new identity as co-pastor, it is not surprising that a Dylan song would accompany me in the silences of my alone time. The call to stand for justice is a growing edge for me, as I begin to recognize the privilege of leading a “private” life, rather than being a public person where it might matter what I do or don’t say.

Lately, several tracks from the little-known album OH MERCY have seemed particularly relevant, echoing in my mind as I read Monday’s [October 3] Gospel passage of the parable of what it means to be a neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Because the answer of eternal life is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And then becoming a neighbor is defined as being moved with compassion to cross boundaries and show mercy, despite considerable personal risk, inconvenience, and cost. So that Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

And I can hear Dylan’s voice challenging songwriters, poets, prophets, lawyers, priests, Levites, Samaritan travelers, pastors, and all those seeking life:

What good am I, if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you


What good am I then, to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see


And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

I am called to mercy. We are called to mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Yours on the journey,


Editor’s note: Renée wrote this as a pastor’s note on October 4; it seemed particularly fitting to share it as a blog post today, in light of the announcement that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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