The Parable of the Good American?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan should end any temptation to engage in self-justifying dissembling about the identity of “our neighbor.” Our neighbor is whoever we have the opportunity to help. Recently, I read a quote attributed to Dietrich Bonhoffer which stated, “We literally have no time to stop and consider who is our neighbor.” I think Jesus would agree.

Jesus portrays a Priest and a Levite, the religious leaders of their day, refusing to take time to help a fellow Jew who had been beaten and left beside the road. No doubt they had important business to take care of. Travel was difficult in those days. They weren't walking along a hot and dangerous road because they needed to loose a few pounds before swimsuit season.

I wonder what went through the minds of the fictional Priest and Levite. Perhaps the Priest reasoned, “Surely, a Levite will come along later and be better positioned to help this unfortunate fellow than myself.” The Levite did come along and perhaps he thought, “Too bad about this guy. Maybe God is judging him for his wickedness. There must be a reason why God let this happen to him. After all, I keep the law and I’m not lying over there in the ditch like that.”

We don't know anything about wounded man at all. He might have been quite a wicked man. Or perhaps he was just average, trying to do okay, and was in the wrong place and the wrong time. When we read this story, we often assume the wounded man was totally innocent. Maybe he was. Maybe not.

The Samaritan had every cultural reason for refusing to help the Jew. No one in Jesus’ day would have regard a Jew and a Samaritan as “neighbors” in the sense of Leviticus 19:18. The Samaritan could easily have reasoned, “There are plenty of Jews, even Priests going down to their colony at Jericho, who are passing by and could stop and help this man. It’s too bad the way he is, but it’s just not my responsibility. There are people in my home village who need my help and I just don’t have the time to stop for this guy. Let his own people help him.” Instead, the Samaritan took it upon himself to be a neighbor to a person he was able to help.

The implications for world missions should be obvious. I have struggled with my share of prejudice towards different peoples in this world and continue to do so. By the grace of God, I am seeing that I have no theological justification for failing to be a neighbor to anyone. Even the terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. Or the insurgents in Iraq--including those who behead innocents. Even the members of Hezbollah or Hamas. Even members of al-Qaida. Even the Taliban. Oh, even those people in leather thongs parading down the streets of major US cities with signs reading "Gay and Proud."

Probably a few people will read this post and say, "Yeah, but those Jews and Samaritans were just fighting over a few petty rules. Of course, they should've cooperated with each other. WE on the other hand are fighting for freedom and for justice. The people we are fighting against are EVIL!"

Well, yes, they are evil. But they aren't the only ones. Only one man is free from any taint of evil. Only one man is good. Only one man deserves God's love. The rest of us, we get to enjoy God's love because the one man who deserves no punishment took all the punishment we deserved upon himself. When Christ died on the cross, he paid for the sins of terrorist too.

I'm still trying to learn this lesson. Maybe we should write a new parable, only one lived out in real life. How would the "Parable of the Good American" or the "Parable of the Good Korean" read?

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