Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is so familiar that it might have lost its punch. At a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service at Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bluffton, I shared these thoughts that continue to challenge me.
Jesus told this parable in response to a religious law keeper, who, when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” asked “Just who is my neighbor?”
One writer said what he might have been getting at is “How far does my responsibility go? What is the least I am required to do?”
We ask the same questions. We know the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, but like the priest and Levite who passed by the beaten man, we justify narrowing the definition when doing so could be costly, or inconvenient, or make us feel uncomfortable because the person is different from us.
And sometimes we genuinely feel powerless to help in meaningful ways. I heard someone say one place to begin is by being a good neighbor to your actual neighbors. There are needs on every street.
But even the next-door neighbor might be different from us – and it’s hard enough getting along with people just like us!
Getting out of the neighborhood can be even harder, as differences can be more pronounced and we can be led to believe that those who are different pose a threat.
In every age, at the core of it, fear of the other stops us.
In Kenya in 2015, Muslim militants ambushed a bus, spraying it with bullets, killing two passengers. When the terrorists asked the 62 Muslim passengers to identify the Christians, they refused, telling them to kill everyone or leave.
The gunmen panicked and left, but shot a Muslim teacher in the arm and hip first. Salah Farah died a month later.
The chairman of the Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council said that “Farah acted according to the teaching of the Qur’an that “saving a soul is like saving the whole of mankind.”
Could he and the others who shielded the Christians be modern-day Good Samaritans?
The priest, the Levite and the law keeper thought they’d met the requirements of their faith, but Jesus showed them that keeping this commandment isn’t about doing the bare minimum.
It is about expanding our circle of concern, those for whom we feel responsible.
Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day, we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.”
It seems to me that if we want to be a neighbor like the Good Samaritan, we have to be willing to reach out when it might be inconvenient, even costly, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit our circle of care expands, so that protection even of those we might fear becomes an instinct, as it was for those Kenyan Muslims.
Until then, it will always be somebody else’s responsibility to transform the road.
Rev. Christine Herrin is the pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.