A Neighbor Indeed
A friend in need needs a friend indeed! But our Gospel lesson of the well known parable of the Good Samaritan, is not about friends, but about strangers. It is about a stranger helping a stranger. We’ve come to practice the parable in a sort of pollyanish way: of course we help someone in an accident or a storm. What decent human wouldn’t?
But what Jesus was actually saying in the parable is much more uncomfortable. As usual knowing the context of Jesus’ time and audience is critical to understanding the impact of the story. His audience would have been very uncomfortable with what he was saying … after all he was telling them to break out of their expected boundaries and sense of morality.
I read a commentary on this at the ucc.org site and as I did, I found myself translating the parable into our contemporary times based on what scholars believed was actually being heard by the audience. Here’s what I came up with …
(A parable based on Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson’s reflection on the Good Samaritan; www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/july-11-2010-fifteenth.html. Rev. Thompson is the Minister for Racial Justice with Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ.)
Talk Show Host: I’d like to welcome you to our program. I’ve been following your public ministry on this program for quite a time. You have been preaching how we all can achieve Eternal Life. You have said that we must give to ne’er-do-wells our hard-earned income and welcome non-English speaking people taking advantage of our prosperous nation. Indeed how do really know I have achieved Eternal Life? Many good preachers have told me, but none say what you say and do what you do.
Guest (realizing his teachings and competence are being challenged by the host and the host does not want his audience to accept him says): What does the Bible say?
Talk Show Host (having received a question as an answer to his question, replies to show his biblical competence): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as your self.” So God has said in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Jesus in Luke 19:18.
Guest: Very good! You are well versed in the Bible and you have found the right answer. Just follow that and you will have Eternal Life.
Talk Show Host (wanting to show that his guest’s notion of neighbor is dangerously liberal): Well, I love God, but who is my neighbor?
Guest: Let me tell you something that happened near here just a short while ago.
There was this man who worked late in the city. He wanted to get home and didn’t want to miss the late train. He rushed from his workplace and decided to take a chance. He took a short cut down through a dangerous part of the city.
He was set upon by a gang. They beat him unconscious. They stripped him. And they took his credit cards, his cash, his watch and his new Droid cell phone. They laughed and left him for dead.
A woman, also rushing home, came by on the other side of the street. She worked in a building on the street and she was always late. She hated her job, just because of its locale. She’s petrified every night heading for the bus station.
She hears the man groan and spots him across the street. I should stop and help, she thinks. But if I do, the gang that got him is likely to get me. How long would I have to wait for the EMTs to get to this area? They don’t come so fast to this neighborhood. I have a family dependent on me. They need me too. It’s just too dangerous …
And she picks up speed as she passes by…
Talk Show Host (interrupts): Surely you don’t think God would expect her to endanger herself in such dangerous circumstances!
Guest (continues): A bit later, a minister rushes by. His church is in this neighborhood. It is an old traditional church and it is aging and declining. He’s been called by one of the last remaining parishioners who still lives in the neighborhood. The husband was dying and he needed to get there.
Then he sees the moaning heap across the street. He thinks to himself, O No! Not another one. I hate this neighborhood. It’s this side of Hell. I need to get out of it. I can’t stop now. I can’t care for every indigent, every homeless man, every abused woman in this neighborhood. It’s too, too much. If I miss praying over a dying parishioner, the parish would never forgive me. I need to keep moving …
Talk Show Host (interrupts again): The minister should be caring for his parishioners … not every sad sap around him! He has every right to care for himself.
Guest (continuing): Later along comes a day worker. He’s been working in the neighborhood for a month now, finding an odd job here and there. He did good today, working all day … it’s not much, but it will tie his family over for the next couple of days.
But he hated this street … a friend whom he worked with was mugged on this street just last week by a gang. They nearly killed him. His family found him. But they dare not call the police. They may be asked their immigration status and end up in a detention center in Elizabeth.
Then he hears the moaning and stops. He crosses the street to check and there he finds the man. He looks pretty well-to-do despite his injuries. He thought briefly, I wonder if he’d care at all for me. But I can’t just leave him like this.
Talk Show Host (interrupts once again):: Watch out! He’s up to something … probably wants to see if there’s any left over valuables he can “feed his family” with!
Guest (carries on): He calls 911 and waits. He spots a furtive shadow. The gang was watching him. He sees them run down an alley. They know he’s called 911 and don’t want to be around.
Finally, the police and EMTs arrive and put the man on resuscitation. No one knows who the man is … with his wallet stolen they can’t identify him. Our day-laborer asks to ride along. He feels the man should have at least one friend in the ER.
When he gets to the ER, he is interviewed by the police as to what happened. He tells the story as best he can. Then the police officer says, “I have to ask this. Do you have identification that you are a citizen or a legal resident?”
Our day laborer hesitates, then responds that he has left his identification at home. The police officer responds, “Well, don’t forget it the next time.”
Our day laborer stays with the man. No one pays any attention to him. Finally the man is identified and his family arrives. The family doesn’t notice him either. He hitches a ride home with one of the maintenance engineers …
Guest (to the host): Tell me which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the gang?
Talk Show Host: I suppose the last one … but he’s an exception! His people wouldn’t care at all … and what about …
Guest (interrupting): Just do the same. Just crash out the box you are in and you will have eternal life right now… just like the day laborer.
What do you say? Are your deeds such that you are a neighbor in deed?
Think about it.
God’s grace and love be with you …