It was just past midnight on a Saturday night when the pastor of a popular urban city megachurch, Reverend Jerry Graham Jr., had just finished the bulletin on the billboard sign located on the lawn outside the large modern church structure. He was in a bit of a hurry to get home and grab some sleep before his first sermon, which was to be delivered at the 8:00 am service the next morning.
He took a last look at the sign before leaving for the two-block walk to the church parking garage: “America, love it or leave it.”
Perfect, and very relevant he thought, as the next morning’s politically charged sermon was titled, “Is the President the Chosen One?”
The Road Down From Jerusalem Down To Jericho
A late-night walk from the church building down to the parking garage was always uncomfortable for the pastor as the church was located in a low-income area often riddled with violent crime. So much so, that many of his parishioners named the journey to the parking lot “the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” which was one of the most treacherous and dangerous roads in the Holy Land during the days of Jesus of Nazareth.
After about a block, the pastor encountered a group of armed robbers, who, first threw acid in his face to blind him, then stole his wallet, watch, and Gucci sport coat. They finished their crime by severely beating the pastor leaving him for dead. The acid burns on the pastor’s face were so bad it made him unrecognizable.
The pastor remained unconscious throughout the night and was still lying motionless on the sidewalk as the members of his church began to arrive the next morning for the 8 o’clock service. The head elder of the church was the first to arrive and upon seeing the unrecognizable and mutilated body on the sidewalk, he crossed to the other side of the road.
He had much work to do to prepare the church for the five Sunday services and thought the unfortunate soul lying on the sidewalk was just another victim of the violent and criminal immigrants he feared were invading and taking over the country.
The next to arrive was one of the church deacons. She, too, also crossed to the other side to avoid the body lying by the side of the road.
The Good Salvadoran
Suddenly, Óscar Ramírez, a brown-skinned man emerged from the dumpster just about two hundred yards from where the pastor was robbed and almost beaten to death. Mr. Ramírez was hiding in the trash can from the immigration authorities as he had arrived in the United States from El Salvador illegally just one week earlier.
He had come to the country in panic after receiving a frantic phone call from his wife, who had traveled north about a month earlier to seek political asylum in a “safer” America, that she and their 3-year old daughter had been separated by U.S. border authorities. After arriving Óscar Ramírez searched desperately for his wife while living in great fear of ICE, the former U.S. Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Service, which he knew would deport him before he could reunite with his wife and daughter.
As he spotted the body of the man lying beside the road it brought back horrible memories of the violent crime he and his family had suffered in El Salvador, which his wife and daughter were trying to escape in their dangerous trip to the north.
Without hesitation, Mr. Ramírez ran to help the man and had compassion on him.
He gave the hurting pastor water, tried to comfort him and attempted to wash the acid from his face. The Salvadoran knew there was a hospital just a few blocks away but was gripped with fear that he would be arrested and deported by ICE if he even came close to a hospital. The stories of ICE immigration raids on hospital emergency rooms were ubiquitous in the immigrant community.
Knowing exactly what he had to do, even if it risked that he would never see his family again, Óscar Ramírez, the Good Salvadoran, gently lifted the pastor from his pool of blood on the sidewalk and carried him the two blocks to the Good Samaritan Hospital emergency room.
Risking everything, the Good Salvadoran checked the pastor into the ER and stayed with him until he regained full consciousness and the authorities at the hospital were able to contact the pastor’s family and congregation.
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law [religion] replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” — The Gospel of Luke
We retell the parable of the Good Samaritan in a relevant and modern-day context not as a political narrative, though it does take place in the context of our politically charged and divisive culture, which many of our leaders attempt to exploit for their own political gain.
It is not a story to warn about walking on dangerous roads. It is not a story about open borders nor about unjust or lax immigration laws. It not a story about medicare for all or universal health care.
It is not a story just about compassion and helping people in need, though that gets us warmer and closer but just a small part of the real truth in the parable.
Evils Of Racism
It is a story about the evils of racism and the hypocrisy of religious acquiescence or direct participation in the toxic mix of racism and destructive stereotyping.
To understand this, one must understand the times of first-century Judea, where Jesus and his followers lived. In order to do this, one must understand the relationship between Jews and Samaritans. This is sometimes hinted at when the parable is told today but it is rarely fully grasped.
Who were the Samaritans? They were not just the outcasts of Judea but were the despised enemies of the Jews. “Half-breeds,” half Jewish and half Gentile, who worshipped false gods and were considered traitors. They were hated more than the Roman conquerors.
The Jews of the day would not even walk in Samaria because they believed the people to be unclean. They would go far out of their way rather than set foot in Samaria, even if it were a much longer trip.
It doesn’t take much imagination to hear the chants in Jerusalem back in that day to “Send them back! Send them back!”
This is exactly why Jesus used a Samaritan in his parable as they would have been perceived as the least likely to help a fellow Jew. The listeners when Jesus told the story would have expected a Jew to be the hero of the parable but were likely very shocked and offended to hear in the end that it was……wait for it…….a Samaritan!
Only by understanding this reality, does the power and true message of the parable convey the main lesson it was meant to when originally told 2,000 years ago and is so very relevant in today’s slouch toward tribalism.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – The Gospel of Luke
Let us all “go and do likewise” and make it a better holiday season,” folks.