It’s easy to read the Parable of the Good Samaritan and see it simply as a simple, sweet story – yes, we need to be nice to people, even people who are different, lovely. But if we leave it at that, we miss something important.
After all, it’s easy to say we should treat everyone as Christ would treat them, but it’s a bit harder to confront our own prejudice and accept that those who are different are also our neighbours – that’s the experience of the Teacher of the Law who was originally on the receiving end of this parable, to the extent that he couldn’t even bring himself to name the hero of the story. But sometimes it goes beyond even that. Sometimes Samaritans have to be subversive.
It’s no secret that the world can be a hateful place – the headlines quoted above testify to that. Ditto for 1st century Samaria and Judea, where Jews and Samaritans loathed each other, so ask yourself this: what happened to the Samaritan after he did his good deed?
Was he the subject of gossip, of abuse? (“What d’you think you’re doing, wasting your money on that piece of trash?! Traitor!”)
Did he keep quiet, maybe explaining what had happened only when necessary, and even then leaving out some key details?
Did he aggressively defend his actions, telling his family and friends that yes, he helped an injured Jewish guy and yes, he’d do it again if he had to?
There are no answers to these questions: the Samaritan was a literary construct used by Jewish to challenge the prejudice and narrow-mindedness of his audience. But it’s not one man’s racism that Jesus confronts, it’s a whole social context where some people are considered ‘in’ and some people are very, very ‘out’. And this isn’t unique to Galilee two thousand years ago; the fact is, sometimes taking a stand for what’s right comes at a cost; sometimes loving our neighbour is the most subversive thing we can do.
And yet there’s a power there. Slow and painful as it may be, Jesus’s call to love and compassion is more likely to heal our broken communities that building more walls and spewing more hate. This Kingdom will be built on helping those who need it, not leaving them bleeding in a gutter, not joining in with the beatings. There are times when that’s easy. There are other times, when we’re faced with offering support and hope to those society has deemed to be the enemy, when being a Good Samaritan requires courage and sacrifice.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” said Martin Luther King. In a world where there is political and online capital to be made through hurling abuse and accusations, it’s a statement with which it’s worth guarding our hearts. Especially when, too often, the church props up the systems and attitudes that Christ may call us to confront; especially when God builds his Kingdom through the compassion and courage of the world’s subversive Samaritans.