July 11, 2010


Who is my neighbor? - Luke 10: 29

This parable is so familiar that we often overlook a crucial figure in it. We tend to identify with the Priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan. We overlook the victim, perhaps because he never utters a word in the story. I think it would be helpful to take a look at it from the victim’s perspective.

Imagine yourself lying there on your back in the depths of need, having been stripped of all your resources & then, opening up your eyes, looking up & seeing, horror of horrors, your hated enemy as the merciful face of God! It is your worst ethnic nightmare. Unable to resist, you are forced to accept godly mercy from one regarded as beyond the pale. You would shudder at the thought. Once you got over the shock, you might eventually come to the realization that sometimes it is possible to accept God’s healing & forgiving mercy only after one has reached the depth of need, having been stripped of everything, including one’s hates & prejudices.

Can we identify with the Jew in the ditch being utterly humiliated & taken aback to discover God’s compassionate love in the face of the Samaritan enemy? Would accepting mercy from someone regarded as an enemy challenge us to see every person as a neighbor so that we become a doer of mercy across any boundary of separation, hate & prejudice?

This gives real punch to the parable. “Go & do likewise” does not mean to imitate the Samaritan but to imitate the victim: if compassion & love can come from one’s enemy, then no one is enemy; everyone is neighbor. Quite a lesson! Here is an earthy example:

It never happened before & he can’t understand it, but an utterly mortified nine-year-old boy in the third grade has wet his pants. His heart has stopped because he can’t imagine how this has happened. He knows when the boys find out he’ll never hear an end of it & when the enemy camp, the girls, find out, they’ll disdain him. He puts his head down on the desk & prays, “Dear God, this is an emergency. Please, I need help now!”

He looks up from his prayer & here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered. As the teacher walks toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. She tries to sidestep the teacher who twists around to let her by but accidentally knocks with her hip, causing Susie to dump the bowl in the boy’s lap. The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while he’s saying to himself, ‘Thank you Lord! Thank you! Thank you!’

Now instead of being the object of ridicule he’s the object of sympathy, & while the teacher sent him downstairs to change into his gym shorts, back in the classroom Susie, the stupid girl, is being reviled for being such a klutz.

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie & whispers, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie whispers back, “I wet my pants once too.” He looks into the face of his enemy & says, “Thank you.”

From this perspective, the parable is not so much about the kindness of the Good Samaritan as about the conversion of the challenged victim, shocked to find mercy where he didn’t expect it & forced to see a neighbor in one he considered an enemy. AMEN!