Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Good Samaritan and the Syrian

The Good Samaritan...

It is one of the most beloved and misunderstood parables in the Bible. "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho..." and you probably know the rest of the story. But you probably don't know the whole story.

The assumption that Jesus' audience would make is that the man in the story is Jewish like they were - remember that Jesus was teaching and preaching among Jewish people. There were no Christians yet! The man is mugged and left for dead. Two people pass by. For our purposes, you could think of those two as a pastor of a nearby church and a member of the church's leadership team. If you were mugged and needed someone to help you these are the people that you would want to have walk by. But, surprisingly, they don't help. Then the Samaritan stops by and is the one who helps.

That much you are most likely familiar with. But what we often do when we teach this story is to say, "Just like the Good Samaritan, we should help a stranger in need." That's NOT what the story is about.

There is a reason why Jesus made the hero a Samaritan. Hundreds of years earlier, the United Kingdom split into a northern and southern kingdom as a result of a power struggle. Those two kingdoms remained at odds for 200 years until the northern kingdom, whose capital was Samaria, was defeated by Assyria. 150 years later, the southern kingdom (there capital was Jerusalem) was defeated by the Babylonians. But the defeat of both kingdoms didn't end the rivalry between people. All the way to Jesus' time Samaritans were at odds with Jews. In other words, this Samaritan was the opposite of the two people who did not stop to help.

I explained the parable to my daughters by having them imagining themselves hurt at recess and their best friends walked by them without a second thought while the person they like least in class stopped to help them. If you are a child of the Cold War, it would be like a Russian stopping to help an American. The point is not that the Samaritan helped a stranger; the point is that the Samaritan helped a potential enemy. The Samaritan helped someone who by societal norms he would not be expected to help.

...and the Syrian

Should we be expected to help Syrian refugees? No. It is possible (but highly unlikely) that ISIS will try to sneak fighters into the refugees that are fleeing. We have plenty of other people already in the United States that need help. It will be hard for a Syrian refugee to make a new life in a culture so different from there own. There are countries in Syria's backyard that are not helping like they should. In short, We are the Samaritan to the Syrian refugee left for dead at the side of the road. We should not be expected to help. The world should assume that we will walk on by. But that's not how the story Jesus told ends.

I Corinthians 12:27 "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it."