Coming off the Camino de Santiago, I still find that journey and travel passages in the Bible capture my attention. So imagine my surprise when I saw that our gospel reading this week is the well known Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) parable.
We are told of a traveler of unknown ethnic or religious origin who gets robbed, stripped, and left for dead at the side of the road. We are told a priest saw the man, literally crosses the road to avoid him, and passed on by. Then a Levite did the same. A Samaritan comes by and actually helps the beaten man.
How fitting for the distressing stories in the news this week and all too often recently. Fitting not because of what happened, but because of how we respond.
A priest in Biblical times performed many of the duties you would expect in a temple. A Levite is performs other temple duties that the priest does not do. They serve the church and supposedly God.
The foreign Samaritans were largely detested by the Jews. Since Jesus was giving his parable to a Jewish lawyer, he clearly was trying to make a point about who stopped to help and who didn't. Clearly those who we expected to be "good" did not act righteously. It's even more poignant because Jesus gave this parable in response a question on the Great Commandment. "How do we get into heaven?" "Love your neighbor as yourself." And, like a lawyer, he asks "But who is our neighbor?"
So Jesus responds with a parable that is meant to provoke, to make you notice the log in your eye. There's a person who's been hurt and all people, even those you detest, can be the one who stops and helps that individual and do what God expects. Those who seem to be good could ignore the Great Commandment and walk past what they see as an obvious injury.
I see the events in regarding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in this light. It seems to be happening all across the country. African Americans have a frighteningly high mortality rate at the hands of police. People of color, people like myself, feel that we have to be extra careful when confronted by police, to be docile, to have our hands out in the open, to not make any sudden moves. I remove my hat so that my face is seen when police are around. There is no sense of safety, but of caution. I fear that I could be the next statistic or hashtag on Twitter.
And yet the media and most people who don't worry about their safety at the hands of their protectors walk on by. They change the subject, maybe blaming the victims for their problems. Sometimes, they'll offer "thoughts and prayers".
I see it happening to immigrants and refugees. I see it happening to those who are in poverty or who are forced into homelessness. I see it happening with women whose rapes are blamed by their attire and were asking for it. I see it happening towards the LGBTQ community where their deaths and beatings are blamed upon them. I grew up hearing that we could not possibly be born this way and are living out our lives not out of honesty but in defiance of some concept of normalcy. I see it happening to the weary traveler who is confused and lost, but gets in the way of those in a rush to drive to work in their nice car.
Well the Samaritan story doesn't accept that apathy and denial and those blinders that impair the light of God from shining forth. The neighbor isn't the person who looks like you, the person who shares your faith or homeland, the person who even likes you. The neighbor is anyone who needs a neighbor. The neighbor is the brother and sister, for all are children of God.
So what are you going to do? What am I going to do? I don't know an easy answer. But I do know this. I can't cross to the other side of the road and turn my head away. I won't ignore, blame, deflect. I accept responsibility for my complicity in the problem, whether its because I actually harmed someone, or because I walked past the injured. I don't know the answer, but I know it's not what we have today.
May we be given the courage to get right on down on our knees, down in the dirt, and help those who need us most. To help. To touch. To love.