Nothing says Christianity like the story of the Good Samaritan. This story captures who we are, what we are to do and how we are to treat all others.
Some people say Jesus is the Good Samaritan and we are the person in the ditch clinging to life. There’s evidence to support that reading here in the United States.
Some people say we are the Good Samaritan, and this is how we are to carry out the ministry of Jesus. After all, he was the Great Physician, and he heals more people than we can count in the Gospels.
When the church took seriously the story, they founded hospitals everywhere. The church, wherever she spread her gospel of Jesus, built hospitals and schools. The Medieval church was the incubator for Western science. The church put her energies and money and power into science and education.
Today, schools have divorced the church, pleading mental cruelty, and hospitals are mostly corporate entities, but we still have our story. A large portion of the American church has become anti-science and anti-education.
“Two of the greatest pastors in American life read the parable of the Good Samaritan and found in it the basis of the Social Gospel.”
Two of the greatest pastors in American life read the parable of the Good Samaritan and found in it the basis of the Social Gospel. They are two of the great minds that have energized the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches for more than a century: Washington Gladden, longtime pastor of First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, and Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester, N.Y., the American Baptist pastor and theologian.
The action that would make a movie in our day happens on the Jericho Road. A man is robbed and left for dead. That he survives is due to the mercy of a stranger. This would not make our movies. Remember when Clint Eastwood was shot up and left for dead in one of his movies and he somehow survived and came back to kill the entire gang? Do you remember your history? Roger Williams was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the dead of winter and survived only because a Native American tribe took him in and nursed him back to health. Strangers saved Roger Williams.
The Jericho Road is a spatial metaphor and that means that it isn’t limited to one specific place, one road on a map between Jerusalem and Jericho. Our land is filled with Jericho Roads. And they are filled with robbers and thieves and murderers. Our nation has fallen among thieves.
Martin Luther King Jr. read the story and said the mission of the church was the destruction of the Jericho Road. King said: “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.”
The Jericho Road today is not a back road populated by robbers and thieves with knives and swords. The Jericho Road today is populated by corporate giants — the worshipers of the Market God, the market fundamentalists and escalating authoritarianism. Free-market fundamentalism “trivializes the concern for public interest.”
Cornell West says, “In short, the dangerous dogma of free-market fundamentalism turns our attention away from schools to prisons, from workers’ conditions to profit margins, from health clinics to high-tech facial surgeries, from health care for all to cosmetic surgeries for the wealthy, from civic associations to pornographic internet sites, from children’s care to strip clubs, from churches to casinos. The fundamentalism of the market puts a premium on the activities of buying and selling, consuming and taking, promoting and advertising, and devalues community, compassionate charity, and improvement of the general quality of life.”
We are a people captured by an advertising world that will sell us all it can. We are so out of touch with our humanity that we now buy products from animals — an emu sells us insurance or a gecko or a camel. We buy toilet paper from blue bears. Polar bears sell us Coca Cola. And there’s Taco Bell’s chihuahua, Target’s bull terrier, the Energizer bunny, the frustrating Aflac duck, Chick-fil-A’s cows who can’t spell. We will buy anything from anything in our consumer-mad world.
“We are critically wounded. And if some good Christians don’t get us out of the ditch, into the ambulance, and into surgery, we will not make it.”
I read the story and I think Jesus is the Good Samaritan and the church is in the ditch. The experts say we are dying. We need heart replacement. We need brain surgery. Some say God is killing the church because of our unfaithfulness. Maybe. I don’t know, but we are critically wounded. And if some good Christians don’t get us out of the ditch, into the ambulance, and into surgery, we will not make it.
Maybe the answer is out there in the streets. Maybe our salvation depends on our expansion of the meaning of “neighbor.” The heart of the story is the question Jesus asks: “Who is your neighbor?”
One little bit of Bible material: This is a Leviticus story. Chapters 18 to 26 are the heart of Leviticus. These chapters were formed during the exile. Israel was in slavery. Israel’s attitude toward the neighbor changed during this time. When people are in trouble, up against it, they often reach for virtues like cooperation, empathy, mutualism, helpfulness and generosity. That’s how Israel survived the exile. That’s how America survived the Great Depression.
But when the good times were rolling for some, the hard-core idea of the neighbor only being a fellow Jew returned with the conflict with the Samaritans. The Jews argued over the neighbor for centuries. The issues were Levitical in nature. They are Levitical today as well.
Let me show you just one passage in Leviticus: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin.” How many of our current disputes involve immigrants and economics?
Guess what? All the issues we are fighting over are rooted in Leviticus and the question of Jesus: Who is your neighbor?
“All the issues we are fighting over are rooted in Leviticus and the question of Jesus: Who is your neighbor?”
In 1914, Rauschenbusch wrote a short sermonic piece, “Dare We Be Christians.” His prophetic words not only ring true, they are capable of helping us. He knew salvation was not just personal. It also is about his neighbor. This may be why he started the social gospel movement. If the gospel is not social, it is not a gospel.
Life must have social utility and its value is measured by its social qualities. Love is the social instinct, the power of social coherence, the sine qua non of human society. Love is the essential thing in the Christian life. … The most important thing in all of social philosophy.
Have we nerve enough to believe that the Christian doctrine of love is the solution to our big modern questions? Do we dare to assert the futility of everything in our great world of commerce and industry that leaves love out? Do we dare to undertake the readjustment of all social life to bring it into the obedience to the law of love?
Love alone creates enduring loyalties and persuades the individual to give up something for the common good of society.
Every step of social progress demands an increase in love.
Love is the society-making force. Social progress depends on the available supply of love.
Where love is lacking, the atmosphere becomes clouded with suspicion and misunderstandings, and it becomes hard to see the truth, even for those who desire to see it.
Must we permanently live in a loveless corporate world, or do we dare to be Christians? The frequency in which our communities have to fall back on physical coercion is a symptom of the failure of love, for love can usually dispense with force. The more love, the less force; the more force, the less love.
If ever our country draws toward its ruin, it will bristle with efficient arsenals and hate groups advocating violence. Atonement, for the Christian, comes through suffering, sacrificial love. Our symbol is not an assault rifle; our symbol is the cross.
“Our symbol is not an assault rifle; our symbol is the cross.”
Why did the Samaritan stop and help? Why didn’t he cross over on the other side? Love casts out fear. The Samaritan first served as the EMT workers, the ambulance drivers. Then he took the wounded man to the hospital where he made sure he got cared for in the ER. Then he paid for the entire bill including the stay in the rehab unit. The entire health care system was involved in helping this poor man live again. I interpret this Samaritan health care as the kind of care that every human being in the world deserves — from the lowest immigrant to the richest person in the world.
There’s something very basic in this story. The Samaritan was a good person. Good. We need more good people who follow the example of this Samaritan. Good people. Not bad people. Not evil people. Not liars and con artists. No manipulative political consultants. Not criminals. Not serial killers. Not mass murderers. Not more thieves but more good people. Not more selfish, rude, crude, angry, profane people. More good people.
We don’t need more guns; we need more good people. More than 100 candidates for political office in the upcoming 2022 election have run television ads showing them with guns. In a House primary in Ohio, the Air Force veteran J.R. Majewski ran a television ad in which he carried a rifle and said, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to return this country back to its former glory” — and then pulled the trigger. I don’t want politicians brandishing guns; I want political leaders bearing ethical principles and solid policies that will benefit all Americans. I’m not voting for a politician with a double-barrel shotgun in his hands; but I will consider one who has a proposal for providing health care for everyone.
Guns will not transform the Jericho Roads in our nation. Only more good people can save us now. Only love can save us now. Only a gospel can save us now — a gospel immersed in the self-giving, sacrificing, suffering love of Jesus.
Why can’t we just be Christians? The people who show mercy in every situation to meet all this human need. Mercy, mercy, mercy.
Rodney W. Kennedy currently serves as interim pastor of Emmanuel Freiden Federated Church in Schenectady, N.Y., and as preaching instructor Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
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