For many people in our world the Bible is just a collection of stories, fables and parables from Middle Eastern writings. It is the story of a man Christians say was the Son of God and the stories are all about God’s action among a group of people called Israelites. Many of these stories are words to live by, but are they true? well, probably not. That is one way of looking at the Bible. Others believe the Bible is a book of faith, inspired by God and that Jesus’ teachings of love and compassion are teachings to practice and live by regardless of what the outside world teaches.
The parable of The Good Samaritan, found in the gospel of Luke (10.25-37), is so familiar to us in our society that there is even a “Good Samaritan” law. A good Samaritan in legal terms refers to someone who renders aid in an emergency to an injured person on a voluntary basis. Putting that law into the boundaries of the parable, if the man beaten by robbers died on route to the Inn where the Samaritan took him, the Samaritan would not be liable. Most people know this story. But knowing it and living what it says, well, there is a difference.
The lawyer asks Jesus the question “who is my neighbor?” The problem here is that you cannot define your neighbor as someone you love or do not love, because as one scholar writes, “you can only be a neighbor.” The lawyer was looking for a way out. He wanted a boundary for his obligation of loving the neighbor, but Jesus wipes out any idea of boundary with the parable.
We all know the story and the lesson Jesus is trying to get across to his listeners. To take time to retell, I would only be dancing around the real issue here, the bottom line as we say. Anyone who has followed the news the past year knows that we are seeing this parable acted out before our very eyes in the situation on our southern borders and many other parts of the world where refugees are struggling to find a place where they can live free from fear and suffering. This is not a political issue, but wherever this is happening, human beings are being used as pawns by people in power. In the U.S. both parties have legitimate issues of concern, but the human beings, especially parents and children have been caught in the crossfire. Our nation has come to a standstill on the issue because no one is sure what to do and because it has become so politicized no one wants to antagonize the other side and both sides blame the other and we are very close to violence in how to deal with this. In the meantime human beings, children, parents are held in cages and separated. And, in a world torn by war and genocide and racial hatred this parable will not allow us to be passive.
Jesus was crucified because he preached a revolutionary message about equality and love. Those in power do not want people seeing the world in this way. History is always about power struggles. We who live in the western world have not been immune from these struggles. Love does not allow limits on the definition of neighbor. There are no boundaries for mercy and love. The command to Love overrides all others. We must put love of neighbor into action. Any attempt to love is always a risk.
I think what frightens me most about this situation is that people turn away because they believe there is nothing anyone can do; or my political party is right in dealing with this issue; the stories we are hearing are lies; the media does not tell the truth; there is no one I can believe anymore. In the meantime this country we love is coming apart and I firmly believe there is a special place in hell for those who abuse children (i.e., Jeffrey Epstein), persecute the poor and the helpless and that includes all of us who say nothing and who do nothing. That frightens me.
This parable creates a reality that challenges our passivity and self-interest. Loving the neighbor as oneself is difficult, but no alternative is allowed. Who is going to be responsible for all of these children when they are released? I don’t know how things got so bad so quickly, but somewhere along the way we are duty bound to attempt to make amends. I am not sure that is even possible.