[Military and civilian personnel attend a Muslim prayer service at the Washington Navy Yard Chapel, Washington, D.C., 2010. Public domain.]
The amorphous they and the amorphous there are very dangerous things.
They often start off as a fuzzy sense of Other. . . .like the violence we shrug off in certain places because, you know, that’s the kind of thing that happens there to those people. We hear news reports of violence and poverty, sometimes in nations and local neighborhoods that the U.S. government has destabilized, and either because they’re so horrific, or because we don’t want to reckon with our own complicity, we begin to feel nothing. Over time, numbness turns into a lack of compassion, and eventually, that turns into a lack of empathy.
Then the amorphous they and the amorphous there begin to take shape. They become solid versions of they and there with inaccurate accusations and stereotypes. Those people there are like this. They are violent. They are criminals. And though we don’t usually let ourselves say this last part aloud, we begin to believe that they are less than human, certainly less deserving than us.
Once we’ve internalized all of this, we begin to justify our own physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence against these Others. It is a terrible thing.
These days, with this on my mind, I’ve thinking a bit about the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a powerful story. Even if it’s been a while since we’ve engaged that story itself, we often hear that phrase from time to time — Good Samaritan.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten how shocking that story was in its original context.
Jesus tells the story after a person seeks to justify himself. That person asks, “And who is my neighbor?” limiting what kind of neighbor he is commissioned to love.
In response, Jesus tells this story: A Jewish man was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road by robbers. A priest comes down that road, but once he sees the man, he passes him by on the other side. The same happens with a Levite. He too passes him by on the other side. But a Samaritan comes, a person considered to be an absolute enemy based on centuries of enmity and mistrust — a representative of they and there — and he goes above and beyond to care for the wounded, Jewish man. He bandages his wounds, brings him to an inn and cares for him there, and then leaves money for his care after he has to leave.
Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The original inquirer cannot even bring himself to say, “Samaritan.” He answers, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise. When we hear the term Good Samaritan, we might ask ourselves, “Am I willing to go above and beyond for people who are threatened and harmed?” That is indeed a good question to ask.
But I think we also need to remember how shocking this story was in its original context.
It’s not solely about us and what we’re willing to do. It’s about they and them – that is, a recognition that our enemies are not who we think they are.
So are we going to do in response to that?