Jesus, the God-man who would be killed by a church-state collaboration, the same teacher who was a threat to the powers of both the military-industrial complex and the religious system, the God who conquered by his submission to death, the one who was lynched before we knew there was such a thing… this is the Jesus who told the story of The Good Samaritan.
In telling it, he embarrassed the audience who was listening. The religious leaders of the day were asking him questions as they did, and one in particular wanted to justify himself by asking the follow-up question, Who is my neighbor? This is the question that our nation is asking itself today. Who is it that we are supposed to “love as ourselves,” because we are too entertained, comfortable, and wanting to visit the thought of loving everyone in our borders. Jesus told this parable to embarrass those who thought they had it figured out.
Every modern day objection is there in the subtext, if one is to read the story out loud. First, blame the victim. That man who was beaten near to death and robbed: he shouldn’t have been out on the road by himself. He should have protected himself. He should have made better choices with his life. That’s what we do, we blame the victim.
Then, we piece out the help. There are hundreds of little, bureaucratic systems that help some people in some ways some of the time. It’s one political battle after another to cover all the areas of help that the victim in the story received from The Good Samaritan. I’m not arguing against those systems, in fact I hope that those systems can grow and continually be reformed. In this parable, Jesus highlights a single person who takes upon himself the responsibility of a whole community to take care of this person in his hour of need. The Good Samaritan was one man, operating as it were, in place of a dozen different state-run programs. Notice how, in the USA, we don’t do any of these things:
He transported him (public transit, mass transit, or infrastructure projects are all wasteful or otherwise a burden to the rich who resent such projects).
He paid for his health care (universal health care, something literally every other developed country has, will never come to the USA because of greed).
He paid for his lodging and food (see: our current housing crisis and the millions who are in food scarcity in this country).
He did all this with nothing in return. No reward. No “return on his investment.” He just did it because he saw another human being on the road and he helped him.
Overt in this story is the racial and national issue. Samaritans were not compelled to help their enemies. That’s the part of the story that was designed to be a shot at the Jewish audience – the Samaritan was the “good guy” in the story. This isn’t unique to them, it’s true of everyone in history. Who is my neighbor? It’s your enemy, who needs your help, you pass on the road. That’s tough medicine to take, but it matters for our national conversation. Are you willing to do right, to bring justice to someone you don’t particularly care for?
The conversation for us usually ends with the real or perceived risks at hand. Are there people who are actively trying to destroy our country? Are there people who want to take away our livelihood, our homes, our safety? Are there political parties within our country, cultural movements, and people giving voice to hatred within our own neighborhoods?
Jesus answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with this parable. Go out and love your neighbors, and expect nothing in return.