In answer to a question put to him by an expert in the law, Jesus told the story of the now classic incident widely known as the Good Samaritan. As usual Jesus chose the characters in his story very carefully. The story was of a Jewish man who was robbed and beaten by brigands and left for dead on the side of the road. Two church leaders a Priest and a Levite on their way to some appointment saw the man and one after the other in succession passed by and continued on their way leaving the man for dead. It is important to note that this was a Jewish man who lay dying on the side of the road and two Jewish leaders came by saw the suffering of their brother and ignored it. Perhaps they rationalized to themselves that it wasn’t their concern; they were on the Lord’s business and couldn’t stop for suffering humanity, perhaps they reasoned that this man’s life wasn’t that important compared to the importance of their mission. Whatever the reason they left their suffering brother to die and passed by on the other side of the road.
Enter, the Samaritan. When he saw suffering humanity he stopped to help. Keep in mind the Jews regarded Samaritans as racially inferior. A good Jew did not mix with a Samaritan (John 4:9). In fact, when the Jews wanted to insult Jesus, they called him a Samaritan (John 8:48). In their context this was their very own apartheid system. The Jews even had their own derogatory name for Samaritans, Cuthim or Cuthite to indicate they were foreigners of a different race and emphasize the separation between them. I can hear them shouting, “go back where you came from Cuthim.” The practice of calling others by derogatory names to emphasize racial inferiority is not a new practice by any means. If a Jew encountered a Samaritan he would cross to the other side to avoid contact, an irony I am sure Jesus meant to convey when he contrasted the response of the Jewish religious leaders passing by on the other side of the street while the Samaritan whom they avoided stopped to help. This man understood the importance of accepting every person as equal before God. He refused to believe the lie of racialized stereotypes. Rather he believed the dying man’s life was as important as his own; after all the law did say love your neighbor as yourself. This is a prerequisite to eternal life. At any rate, the Samaritan stopped to help. At the risk of his own life he stopped to help. Not only did he carry the man to safety and paid for his medical care but promised to return and pay for any additional expenses the man’s care incurred! If Jesus was not teaching the importance of social justice activism in this powerful narrative, I don’t know what he was teaching. Who should I as a follower of Christ stop to help? Whose life is worth my time and effort?
Nonetheless, it is to be noted that the record shows that Samaritans were among the earliest converts to Christianity (Acts 8: 25; 9:31; 15:3). Like most oppressed peoples they responded to the appeal of the gospel that offered freedom and justice for all. Not unlike the Black slaves of America and the Caribbean who found hope and empowerment in the knowledge that all are created equal and are of the same flesh and blood and all one in Christ Jesus. In Christ, there is neither Jew or Samaritan but all become one.
I have lived in the United States for some 25 years. Perhaps like some others of my contemporaries, I had what I now consider to be a rather simplistic understanding of racial issues in the United States. Furthermore, as a Caribbean American of the Adventist faith I felt confident I could remain apart from the dynamics of these racial complexities and go about my business without bothering anyone and not having anyone bother me. I would focus on My mission. I would pass by on the other side. I was even counseled by others who had been here before me not to get involved in such issues. that these were primarily between Whites and African Americans born in the United States. As Adventist Christians, we were to be in the world but not of the world. That was interpreted to mean, stay out of such issues. However, as I navigated my American experience, I have come to see the inadequacy and the utterly ignorant basis of this view. For one thing I realized that even though I saw myself as different others saw me as the same. When others see me, they see a black person. If a police officer pulls me over, he sees a black man. To the extent that I pretended otherwise not only was I fooling myself, but I was depriving myself of the opportunity of participating in the work of the Good Samaritan and fulfilling the law of God. Today, having been subjected to multiple acts of racism, I realize that this artificial barrier I put between myself and my brothers and sisters in this country was arbitrary, uninformed, shortsighted, and wrong.
So now for me, black live matter is about the man beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road. For the church leaders passing by on the other side, self-preservation was more important than their brothers’ life. They could not afford to be involved. The fact that Jesus chose two religious leaders to make his point emphasized his clear intention to say religion should never be used as an excuse to avoid getting involved or to sanction oppression. On the other hand, if anyone had a legitimate reason for passing by on the other side, it was the Samaritan. He knew, in all likelihood, if the shoe was on the other foot, the Jew would likely have left him there to die. Still, he saw himself in the man lying there bleeding to death and concluded, passing by was not an option. If that man’s life didn’t matter, his life didn’t matter either. Black lives matter because everyone’s life matters, and everyone’s life matters because black lives matter. Interestingly, at the end of his story, Jesus asked the religious expert, which of these was neighbor to the man? Of course, he acknowledged, the one who stopped to help, the one who got involved. Jesus’ answer? Go and do likewise.
One question remains, “How shall I be active in promoting justice and equality in a way that honors my faith?”
That is the subject of my next post