The Good Samaritan
This is a familiar story, about a man who was robbed and beaten and left to die on the roadside. Two religious officials pass by, ignoring him. Then, a Samaritan comes along, treats his wounds, and carries him to an inn, paying the landlord to look after the man.
I think I, and maybe you, too, tend to think we get the point of this story: don’t assume you know who the good guys and the bad guys are. Everyone is your neighbor. What else needs to be said?
Well, I remember something that happened six years ago. Summer, 2016, shortly before that election. It was also the summer of the Pulse nightclub shootings. In case you’ve forgotten the details of that particular incident, Pulse was a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. A shooter murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others, before he was shot dead by police.
The Benedictine spirituality group, AKA Ben, meets on Thursday evenings. We do lectio divina, that is, a meditative reading, on the gospel passage for the upcoming Sunday, then we discuss it. One summer evening in 2016, we were discussing the good Samaritan. We were talking about who would be like a Samaritan in our times. Two weeks ago, we encountered the Samaritans, and Christine explained in her wonderful reflection that they had somewhat different religious beliefs than the people of Judea. You’ll remember that they refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, inspiring James and John to some most un-saintly impulses. So that evening, we were suggesting that maybe Muslims, or LBGTQ people would be a good analogy. Of course, being enlightened ourselves, we would never vilify such people. Then, Peter mentioned that he had read an article about some Trump supporters who had gotten together to raise money for survivors of the Pulse shootings.
I wish I had a video recording of the next moment or two. Trump supporters? Trump supporters. You could almost hear the wheels turning: aren’t they all gun-toting, homophobic white supremacists? Maybe not. Because we are at least somewhat enlightened, we resisted the temptation to cry “fake news!” It seems that even we regard some people as Samaritans – people who can’t be expected to do good.
And this is where I get stuck. I don’t want to be a judgmental person. Jesus is pretty clear about judging others: Judge not, lest ye be judged. If I’m hearing it in the King James version, it’s been in my consciousness for a long time. I know it’s wrong to judge people because of their ethnicity or their gender identity or their religious practices. But if someone has values that conflict significantly with my own, how can I help myself from judging them? And if a person wants to vote for someone whom I believe would act in accordance with values I don’t support, doesn’t it follow that I can’t support that person’s values?
I don’t really know. Maybe what Jesus is asking the lawyer, and us, to do is to look at our assumptions. This week, in the Ben group, I heard another story. One member of our group was a military wife during the Viet Nam war. She was also a peace activist, who organized marches (with the full support of her husband). She told us that she heard, over and over again, from the peace marchers, that military people were war mongers, and from the military families she knew, that the peace activists were traitors. Knowing people on both sides, she knew that the truth was much more complex.
Here in the inner Bay Area, we’re used to all kinds of diversity – except maybe diversity of political opinions. Not that there isn’t anyone here that we might disagree with, but it’s always easier to stay in your comfort zone. So that’s where we’re likely to “other” people. They think this. They do that. They’re not like us.
And what do they think about people like me? Liberal democrats from California? That we’re all drug using communists who want to steal all the money from hardworking rich people and give it to people who can’t be bothered to work?
I think that I have to at least allow the possibility that some of my assumptions about “them” might be less than completely accurate. It would be nice if we could learn to talk with people that we don’t necessarily agree with. In fact, I think it might be the first step in healing the divisions that are tearing us apart. Right now, though, that doesn’t seem to be very easy.
I don’t think we’re ever going to completely get away from judgment. I’m not even sure we should. Maybe we could start by confining our judgments to what people have actually said and done, rather than what we believe we know about them. If our leaders or our courts make decisions that I believe are going to harm a lot of people, I’m going to be angry about that. And if people disagree with my anger, I’ll be unhappy and wish they could see it my way.
I would like to think, though, that if I saw someone in trouble, and I was in a position to help, I would do it, regardless of the bumper stickers on their car, or the slogans on their T shirt.