I grew up, as most church kids did, hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan, seeing it in all its flannel-graph glory. It was clear who we were supposed to like the most in the story, who we were supposed to want to be. The two men who passed by the half-dead traveler were as bad as the robbers, and were certainly not neighborly to anyone. The traveler was beaten and robbed of all his possessions. Only the Samaritan was good. Only the Samaritan paid it all (willingly). If the goal was to be a neighbor – and it was, because Jesus says so (never mind any of that stuff about relationship or eternal life) – then it was your job to strive with all your might to be a Good Samaritan, a neighbor, if you will, to everyone.
There are three aspects of this story that have always irked me. The first is the obvious one: how can two people pass by a fellow human being in so much obvious need and distress? And yet, how often do I do this very thing? The second is probably born of my rebellious streak: what if I simply don’t *want* to be the Good Samaritan? Sometimes I feel like a Samaritan…in a crowd of Jewish folk. And sometimes, to be honest, I feel like a robber, at least in terms of relationships and love, but we’ll have to circle back to that.
The third has to do on the surface with sexism and, more deeply, with the wound of un-seen-ness. That is, as a woman, what if it is not safe to stop on the road to help a strange, particularly a man (all the characters in the story were men, a minor annoyance to me even as a young child)? Women live in a very different, much more dangerous world than men do. Is it a sin, as a (female) follower of Christ to reflexively worry about my safety before and as it relates to helping another? Does actual injury outweigh (very) possible injury, or physical take precedence over mental/emotional? These questions as they apply to me really should read: does who and what I am have as much importance to Christ as those I am commanded to help? Does Christ see *me* even if I am not the beaten traveler?
Balm for these questions (read: the fear that their answer is no) has been years in coming.
Yesterday, I heard this story preached in a refreshing new way. It was still a children’s story; instead of felt and Velcro, the homilist pulled props – brown cloth for the ground, a strip of burlap for the road, laminated cut-outs of Jerusalem, Jericho and the men, black shapes (shadows for the robbers to crouch in) – out of an aged-looking golden box. He acted out the familiar story but then closed with questions: besides the usual who is the traveler’s neighbor, how would the story be different if some of the characters were women? Why do you think the first two men passed by without helping (read: what are your motivations for doing so when you commit the equivalent?) And, most healing for me, who is the neighbor to the robbers? This has already run a bit long, so thoughts on why that’s healing are forthcoming; for now, I’ll suffice it to say that it had never dawned me in my six years of becoming Christian that anyone besides the innocent, injured party “deserved” the kindness, company and care of a neighbor.