The Good Samaritan Story is one of the classics in the Bible. One of the greatest hits. And it used to seem fairly clear to me, message wise: To be like Jesus we need to be Good Samaritans. Take care of the people beaten up and left in the ditch on the side of the road, not ignore them and walk on the other side.
It’s a story we need to hear now more than ever, when it feels like a lot of people are being left in ditches. 60 million refugees worldwide. LGBTQ folks everywhere. People who feel like their black lives matter way too little. This week, the friends and family of Terence Crutcher, another unarmed black man shot by police, are probably feeling that deeply.
However, as simple and clear as this message might appear at first glance, I have to say, the reality feels so much more complicated. Because there are real people involved, people like me, who are scared for their lives, most of the time.
Yeah, I’ll admit it.
I am scared for my life.
Fear beats me up on a daily basis pretty much. Leaves me in ditches on the side of the roads of my life.
And, if we’re being honest, aren’t we all afraid? We lock our doors, close our gates, roll up our windows, to keep all the big, bad scary stuff out. To stay safe.
Of course, part of that is simply instinct. The survivalist part of us, huddled in a back corner of our brains, always whispering “It’s us or them, baby.”
But we also live in a culture that promotes fear. Fear that there’s not enough to go around. Fear that there’s always someone out to get us, kill us, take what little we feel we actually have. Fear that we’re gonna get ripped off, screwed over, fear that God only helps those who help themselves.
Which is why I have recently found myself realizing that in actuality, even though I’m not supposed to say this out loud, I feel a lot of solidarity for the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story. They are supposed to be the “bad guys” right? But honestly I see them as simply so very very human. Simply human, and unsure of the right thing to do, and/or afraid if they do what they think might be the right thing it will be the wrong thing, it will not end well. If I stop to help a black man by the side of the road, will I be killed by police too? If I express empathy for an old white woman who feels like her world has been turned upside down and thinks Trump may be the only one who can make her feel safe again, will my friends disown me?
The question that got Jesus going on this story was a somewhat innocuous one from a lawyer, a guy who wanted a simple and clear answer to this question: Who is my neighbor?
Yeah…so who is my neighbor?
I have been thinking this week, that the answer Jesus gives is slightly more complicated than the simple answer I’d always seen in this story.
I’ve started thinking that maybe what Jesus is saying is that we are all neighbors here. The guy in the ditch, the good Samaritan, the priest, the Levite.
We’re all on the same road, trying to figure this whole life thing out, trying to raise our kids, make it home safe at night, have enough food on the table, have a roof over our heads. Be secure. Feel loved. And at any given moment, we may be the one beaten by the side of the road, we may be the one who’s afraid and trying to keep their distance, we may be the one who against all odds, all better judgment takes the risk to be kinder and more caring than sometimes feels humanly possible.
There’s a line in a Carl Sandburg poem that says:
The single clenched fist, lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
My life default position seems to be the fist clenched in fear. But I have been trying to remind myself, trying to trust that’s not the only way to live.
This is what I believe Jesus had in mind for all of us. The open hand versus the clenched fist.
That’s the kind of world Jesus imagines, a world where we see we’re all neighbors, where the wounded are cared for, whether it’s the person broken by the side of the road, or the ones broken by their fear.
We’re all neighbors here.
There is no other, there’s only us, on this tender, trembling earth. And our call is to open our hands, and open ourselves to God’s love, the love that is enough, enough for all of us, enough to go around. Our call is to open our hands, let love be greater than our fear, and love our neighbors…all our neighbors…as we try to love ourselves.
Lenora Rand, a writer from Chicago, blogs at Spiritual Suckitude and co-directs The Plural Guild, a music and liturgy collective. She also writes songs with the band, The Many, makes her living in advertising and helps with Wild Goose Festival communications.