I’ve been thinking about Good Samaritans.
The recent murders of two men on a Portland, Ore. commuter train by a man who was harassing a teenager and her Muslim friend wearing a hijab raises an important question. In a time where sectarian violence is becoming more common; is being a Good Samaritan more dangerous than ever before? In risking our lives to save others are we risking too much; putting some in unnecessary jeopardy because our sense of civic decency and religious pride cannot ignore a man with mental illness? It’s a tough question to decide, in an instant, for what offensive behaviors one is willing to die.
Far from a simple question of situational ethics, the idea of the “Good Samaritan” is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching and one that Christians cannot ignore. The concept of the “Good Samaritan” emerges from Luke’s gospel. It is a Christian story and for the most part, the secular world gets it wrong. The “Good Samaritan” is an anti-hero. His questions and motivation are not lost on today’s headlines.
As Jesus tells it, a man was traveling a dangerous road between two cities. This road was known to be one where thieves, robbers, and bandits regularly plied their trade. It was a dangerous path. The man should have known better than to take this road. It was, however, this quickest way to his destination. Somewhere along the road he was jumped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. No one intervened to stop his beating. No one fought the robbers. No one called the police. He laid there, in the road, a corpse in the making.
While the man lay dying, on two separate occasions, two people walked by his half-dead body. These people, while very religious, did nothing to help the man. They valued their religious obligations over any duties toward people in need.
About this same time, a Samaritan was travelling along the road. Samaritans were not do-gooders with first aid packs, civic heroes, or well-respected people. The Samaritans were an ethnic group; a despised ethnic group. The corpse in the making, his ethnic group hated the Samaritans. The half dead man probably thought the Samaritans were sacrilegious heretics who worshipped a foreign God. To most people, there was nothing “Good” about “Samaritans”.
And yet, the Samaritan stopped. Remember the Samaritan didn’t see the initial attack. There was no more physical violence. There was emotional violence; that’s what the two religious guys did by ignoring the half dead man in the road. Religious inaction is as bad as hate speech. The robbers could have returned. They did not. The Samaritan picked up the nearly dead man, treated his wounds, and took him to a place where he could be cared for. The Samaritan even paid his medical bills.
The Samaritan was “Good” because the dominant religious culture deemed him “bad”. In last week’s attack in Portland, the Muslim women would be the modern day Samaritans. If you want to apply the parable of the Good Samaritan: these women are the outsiders, the religious culture different from our own. Secondly, the two men who died are also Samaritans. I would also argue they are martyrs. They stopped when no one else would, despite the danger (obvious or not), they came to assist someone in need. When Samaritans are assisting Samaritans, when we start to see each other as Samaritans; I can hear Jesus saying, “Now you’re getting it”. It is notable that in Jesus’ story the Samaritan never responds with violence. Like Jesus himself, the Samaritan counters the effects of violence with healing and compassion. Death stops when Jesus gets involved. Jesus (like the Samaritan) doesn’t have to kill others to be safe.
It has always been dangerous to be a Samaritan, good or otherwise. The kingdom of God is full of Samaritans; outsiders and outcasts who are unrecognizable to the brick and mortar mainstream we call religion. Look around at the Samaritans among you; they are in your congregations, in your pews, in your world, hiding in plain sight. Welcome them home. Tell them Jesus loves them, is proud of them, and their time is now.
Richard (the preacher next door)