When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough
Luke 10: 25 – 37
This is one of the most well known parables in all of scripture. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a striking story about care and compassion for others, especially strangers and the content of it has lead individuals and organizations around the world to spring up and preform acts of mercy to people all over the globe. Hospitals and churches have been named after the parable – think Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York.
And while the parable of the Good Samaritan is brilliantly effective for promoting an understanding of who the neighbor is and who acted in a neighborly way to this Samaritan there are some issues that I’d like us to look at. In one sense the parable seems to promote short-term aid without addressing long-term issues of justice, for example. What were the social conditions that led to such a dreadful act of violence on the road to Jericho?
Why was the stranger so brutally victimized at this particular location and not somewhere else? Did this section of the road lend itself to this type of crime – dark turns and corners, and blind spots. Was the crime merely a random isolated event or a pattern that was developing on the road to Jericho? In other words, was short-term aid all that was necessary or was the Good Samaritan inspired to also engage in acts of advocacy over the issue of crime lets say.
What would have happened if the Good Samaritan had traveled down the same road, week after week, like people who commute today over the same stretch of highway, and continued to find victims at or near the same location. What would he have done then? At what point would he have said, “Wait a minute. Something’s got to change. I can’t afford to keep helping all of these individuals who have been robbed. Something else needs to happen.”
At what point would the Samaritan do more than offer short-term aid for the victims? Would he start asking deeper questions about the need for a police presence or better lighting? Would he seek solutions to the underlying problem of crime on the road to Jericho? Would he begin to look at who benefited from the way things were?
Obviously we will never know the answer to those questions, but we can speculate with some confidence, that since the Samaritan is, as Jesus told us, an example of someone who loved his neighbors, then it’s not a far stretch to believe that if he found it necessary – the Good Samaritan would show love for his neighbor not only through momentary acts of mercy and charity, but also through advocacy for the public good.
While the parable of the Good Samaritan provides a wonderful lesson in response to a specific question – “Who is my neighbor”, we are left wondering how to advance the idea of being a neighbor beyond mere acts of charity, acts that are like Band-Aids, necessary, but not enough to stop the problem that the act of charity is trying to address.
And while the Good Samaritan provides us with an excellent example of what we can do to help in a crisis situation it doesn’t address the larger issues of why the crisis arose in the first place. And while we cannot solve all of the world’s problems, we should be looking at more than temporary fixes to many of the problems that this parable raises?
For example if the Good Samaritan say day after day others lying beaten an unconscious by the side of the road would he change his approach and put pressure on the town’s government to do something about the dangers of this road? If he continued to pass by day after day and see the same people being robbed and others being left alone would he wonder why and would he ask why?
Churches have done a pretty good job with providing care and comfort to the strangers who have been harmed in our midst but we have not been all that good at asking why the situations that lead to our acts of charity are occurring.
When it comes to poverty and crime do we see the link between levels of income and education that exist. When someone asks us for a handout do we ask why is this still happening in this day and age. Why is there generational poverty? What contributes to that? Lack of personal responsibility? Lack of governmental aide? Lack of role models? What are the factors that caused this man to be beaten and robbed? Are we addressing those factors as well?
Instead of allowing the robbers and innkeepers of our world to profit from modern day Good Samaritans who focus solely on latest crisis, when do we say that the entire road to Jericho must be transformed so that no one is beaten and robbed. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
And so, while charity must continue because of the injustices of our present day and age, our ultimate goad is to reach a point within our community where such acts are no longer required. Sometimes just being good isn’t good enough. Amen