Who is my Samaritan?
While I come from a religious background, and this writing is based on that part of me, the context is actually beyond religion; it’s about being fully human, recognizing one another as equally weird and wonderful, and loving everyone as we ourselves would like to be loved. So, while I’m using a particular framework, it’s the resulting structure that matters more that the tools used to build it. Read on, if you dare!
In searching for the best possible life, a wise Jewish teacher once asked Jesus a simple question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. The answer eventually boils down to loving God and one’s neighbour as oneself. That’s not really earth-shattering. It’s the Golden rule we learn as children. The teacher, however, challenges Jesus, asking who one’s neighbour might be? Jesus, ever the story-teller, tells of a man being robbed and left for dead. Two good Jewish people, a priest and a Levite, avoid the unidentified man completely. A third man, a Samaritan, is the only one who helps the victim, bending over backward to see that he’s well and truly cared for. There’s a problem, however: Samaritans are virtual scum-of-the-earth to a devout, faithful Jew. But it’s a scum-of-the-earth Samaritan who lives out the Golden rule; it’s the one every Jew hates that upstages the good Jewish priest and Levite and proves to be the kind of neighbour that will get invited into God’s eternal-life neighbourhood. (read the whole story here, if you’d like) Whether or not you believe in God or Jesus, the point of Jesus’ story is universal: being a truly good neighbour isn’t a question of one’s title or place in society; a good neighbour is the one that does the right thing, caring for another even at great personal risk or expense.
End of story, right? We all want to be that person, the one that will be called a good neighbour, who will go above and beyond to help the victim left for dead in the middle of the street, even if it’s expensive and inconvenient. It’s the good and right thing to do.
But there’s more to the story, because Jesus doesn’t just point out who the true neighbour is. According to Bruxy Cavey, in his book, “The End Of Religion”, this story not only points us to the good within us; it can also help us plunge the depths of our inner darkness so that we might see who we treat as the despised Samaritan.
To that end, Bruxy Cavey asks “Who is a “Samaritan” to you?”.
The question is a challenge. It’s not “who is the neighbour you would help?” It’s “who is the one that you would go out of your way to avoid?” The Samaritans in Jesus’ day were the “other”, a people despised and rejected by the Jews for religious, political and historical reasons. If the Jewish Levite or priest in Jesus’ story had known the victim was a Samaritan, they probably would have gone over to him and kicked sand in his face or spat on him. Dirty Samaritan!
But the victim is of unknown origins and background. It’s a dirty, hated Samaritan that turns out to be the hero, which would have truly irritated the Jewish man that had asked Jesus for advice.
Cavey invites us to acknowledge who the irritating Samaritan(s) is(are) in our lives. In doing so, he doesn’t simply ask a simple question; he goes deeper, forcing the reader to really look into themselves.
“not in the sense of being a “Good Samaritan,” but just a Samaritan, as the term would have meant to a first-century Jew? In other words, to whom do you feel superior?
Whom do you secretly (or not so secretly) despise? Try to answer with brutal self-searching honesty.”
Then, to ease the task of actually having to speak the names or possibilities for ourselves, Cavey offers helpfully:
“Even if you do not want to feel superior to these people, ask yourself if you do feel superior to:
Rich people☜ ☞Poor people
Politicians☜ ☞Police officers
Physically challenged people☜ ☞Physically superior people
Mentally challenged people☜ ☞Mentally superior people
Garbage collectors☜ ☞Golfers
Truck drivers☜ ☞Taxi drivers
Slow drivers☜ ☞Scientists
Welfare recipients☜ ☞Public servants
Homemakers☜ ☞Home wreckers
Street people☜ ☞Sales people
Religious people☜ ☞Atheists
Adult children☜ ☞Childish adults
Therapists☜ ☞People who are in therapy
People who should be in therapy☜ ☞People who put you in therapy
Attractive people☜ ☞Ugly people
Famous people☜ ☞Family members
Fat people☜ ☞Skinny people
Dog people☜ ☞Cat people
People who drink☜ ☞People who don’t drink
People who drive you to drink☜ ☞People who like country music
People who like Monty Python☜ ☞People who don’t like Monty Python”
When I read this, I felt challenged to look deep into my own personal “Samaritan List”; at the same time, I was reminded of the brilliant welcoming statement authored by the good people at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Stittsville, Ontario.
Here it is in full:
“Welcome to St. Andrew’s!
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender, trans-sexual, a-sexual, pan-sexual, cisgender, filthy rich, dirt poor, “ne parle pas Anglais” or have no idea what most of those terms mean.
We extend a special welcome to those who have crying babies or are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Taylor Swift or if you can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome soccer dads, hockey moms, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters, students, teachers and even guidance counsellors.
We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.
We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion”… we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the casino in Hull, you’re still welcome here.
We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here just because mom or grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced cut or all the above.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.
We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and YOU!
Thanks to Marlene and her home church, the St. Andrew’s Stittsville Youth Group and Frederick Banting Alternative High School Diversity Group for helping to craft this welcome and explaining the meaning of all these terms to the minister!”
In this affirming, all-inclusive and incisive statement, St. Andrew’s, Stittsville turns our personal Samaritan revealed through Bruxy Cavey’s insightful exercise into the most desired and beloved of all people. The question I have, in response, is: are we willing to peer deeply into our prejudice and bias in order to identify those to whom we feel superior, or despise, or generally reject simply because they are not within our comfort zone? To Christians, I ask: Can we shine the light of Christ into the darkest part of our hearts so that we can love our secret Samaritan as much as God loves us? For those of you who have no particular interest in Jesus, the question boils down to this: Are you willing, ready and able to love your neighbour as yourself, even if she is one of those personal Samaritans you identified earlier on?
(This article has also been published on my Blog, “At Crossed Purposes”)