Who Is My Neighbor? New Thoughts on “The Good Samaritan”

by David on July 14, 2015

I heard an interesting sermon last Sunday (July 12) at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Austin, where I’m a member. St. Andrew’s is a liberal, progressive Christian church. The sermon was preached by our associate pastor, Rev. Crystal Silva-McCormick. I won’t go into the whole thing, but here are two new ideas I came away with.

Idea 1.

This idea is prompted by the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus had just said “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and an expert in the law asked “Who is my neighbor?” (There’s one in every crowd, eh?) So Jesus told the parable. A short version with parenthetical notes to help get the point across: A man gets mugged and left on the roadside to die. A priest (privileged Jew) passed without helping. A Levite (privileged Jew) passed without helping. A Samaritan (despised by the Jews) helped the man. Jesus asked “Who was the man’s neighbor?” The expert answered, “The one who helped.” Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

Now, in a traditional teaching of this parable, especially to children, the question is usually asked “Which character are YOU in the story?” Think about it for a second. Picked one? I’d be willing to bet good money that you chose, not between all the characters of the story, but between the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. Hmmm.

Here’s a twist: When some missionaries to Colombia taught this parable to the downtrodden poor they were trying to enlighten, the poor folks identified with the man on the roadside. And the question THEY pondered was, “I wonder if I’d let the rich American (the Good Samaritan) help me.”

There are many lessons here. But the one that stuck with me was simply this: we privileged people automatically choose between priest, Levite, and Samaritan as a character to embody. The oppressed see themselves in the man who was mugged, are used to being passed by, and have learned to question the motives of a person who wants to “help” them.

Thanks, Crystal, for opening up this way of thinking and the many lessons to be learned from it.

Idea 2.

This one I came up with, but naturally flows from Crystal’s words. She spoke a lot about “enemies” and wanted us to think about who our enemies are, whose enemies WE are, and where love can happen in the midst of all that.

If we agree with Merriam-Webster that an enemy is “one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent”, then I can confidently say that I have no enemies. No one seeks my harm. Oh sure, there are fanatics and regimes that might harm me because I’m part of a group they hate, but not because I’m David Marks. In most ways, I’m privileged and not oppressed or marginalized.

But here’s the rub, and my new thought (new for ME, not the universe): One major reason I don’t think I have any enemies is because I don’t identify enough with my neighbors who DO have enemies. (Take time to read that again.)

I’ve often said that “love your neighbor as yourself” is a command to see ourselves in others. To see others, the homeless person on the corner, the person hated because of their race, etc., as US.

It’s relatively easy for a compassionate person to feel pain when they see someone weeping over a murdered relative. But what about everyday injustice? What about structural racism? The big question is, why don’t I feel oppressed when my neighbor is oppressed? Why don’t I feel marginalized when my neighbor is cast aside? Why don’t I feel as angry as my neighbor, when they are treated unfairly?

I think it has to do with enjoying the ignorance, obliviousness and comfort of my privilege.

Which character are you?

St Andrew’s
Video of Sermon

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