The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It’s easily one of Jesus most famous stories, and a story that most people in our Western culture have likely heard regardless of whether or not they have ever attended church regularly. It’s a story about caring for those in need and a story about taking tangible action rather than offering empty sentiment in the name of “prayer.” And, ultimately, its a story about racism and how we are called in the name of Christ to cross any and every boundary that threatens to divide us from those in need for they are our neighbor.
Which, sadly, makes the common name for this parable, The Good Samaritan, a painful reminder of the very issues that made Jesus tell this story to begin with.
See the story is about how none of the respectable Jewish people would stop and help their brother who was hurt, but instead it was a Samaritan man who stopped and cared for him. This was a scandalous twist in the story because Samaritans were known basically as terrorists by the Jews. (In fact, it was only a few years before Jesus that a Samaritan group had spread bones in a Jewish synagogue thereby making it unclean…a horrific offense to those who worshipped there.) The twist of the story is that it is the Samaritan who is a neighbor to the man and so those listening to Jesus need to check and repent from their own prejudices and racism. It is, perhaps, a sad commentary that one of our most enduring stories is about how we love to see people by their categories rather than by their created image of God. Racism truly is original sin.
And this is why I hate the name of this parable. The Parable of the GOOD Samaritan.
Honestly, its sadly ironic. Because this name of the parable which was given hundreds of years later (Jesus never calls the story by that name) seems actually just to propagate the same issue which mad the parable necessary in the first place. Why the added adjective “good?” It seems a title that only reinforces the idea that Samaritans are bad, and so here is the story of the “good” Samaritan. What if today we told a story about a man from Baghdad and someone later named it the story of the “good” Iraqi? Do you see the problem here?
But, somehow…the name endures doesn’t it? I know why. It’s offensiveness is hidden below its name. It is wrapped up in a good story and so we see it favorably, despite the fact that it undermines the very message of the point Jesus was making. We say it without knowing its history, and so when we call it that we don’t actually realize what we are doing. To know that it actually points at the original racism that Jesus decried in the story requires that we understand its history and make a decision to call it something else. Perhaps even just simply “The story of the Samaritan.”
This is how racism works. It, like the enduring misnaming of the story, hides behind unreflective language. It saddles up to good sentiment and conceals itself in nice intentions. And this is all why we too, especially in light of the events of last week, must keep not only having good intentions regarding race, power and justice, but more importantly careful study, reflection and knowledge. We must not only care, but learn about racism and injustice and where they lurk in our hearts, structures and culture. It will even mean absolutely letting go of how we’ve referred to things in the past and thought of things. It will finally take careful thought, discussion and work to begin to remove the misunderstandings, prejudice and injustice in our world….and let’s let the Samaritan be our guide this week.
See you on Sunday and if you’d like to read the Samaritan’s story anew, you can find it here: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+10:25-37&vnum=yes&version=nrsv