Samaritans in Jesus’ day were both religiously and racially despised. The phrase “Samaritan lives matter” would have been very offensive to the Jewish culture in which Jesus was raised and in which he was a teacher and doer of good. But to Jesus, clearly Samaritan lives did matter.
Today, to Jesus, clearly “Black lives matter,” and Hispanic, and immigrant, Muslim, refugee, atheist, imprisoned, gay, African-American, Native American, etc.
It is true and appropriate to say so. We must emphasize the value in God’s eyes of excluded groups.
Back then, it seems Samaritans felt the same about the Jews. Their Scriptures, their temple, their patterns of worship, their moral / religious standards of behavior – were all wrong, dangerous. They were beneath contempt. They didn’t matter.
But Jesus did not participate in such discriminations against people, not in either direction.
The tensions were not exactly the same as today in the USA – new times and places always produce new particulars.
But I bet things were the same in important ways, like:
- casual self-complacency, cockiness, assuming one’s own superiority
- pride in being right about key things while “those other people” are clearly wrong
- lots of good explanations of one’s own superiority, and the others’ inferiority
- the more overt evils that the pride, and cockiness lead to, like
- indifference, which is probably the opposite of love, and therefore clearly unChristian
- contempt, looking down on, talking bad about
- disrespect, refusal to show common courtesy
- potential for violence, or actual violence
Let’s notice 5 illustrations from the Jesus stories.
The first three are from the story in John 4 of Jesus’ interaction at a well with a Samaritan woman.
1. Jesus went where he “should not” go – where the racially, religiously corrupt people were.
Had he been appropriately touchy about matters of racist discrimination, Jesus would have gone up to Galilee by another route – which was very common among the Jews. But he chose not to. He deliberately chose a route that would put him, with his followers, in contact with Samaritan territory and people. It was a deliberate choice.
Do we make that choice in our daily lives – with at least some regularity?
Our society is structured so that many of us can easily avoid racial or religious minorities, or economic underclasses. Do we choose against that structured racism?
2. She was surprised that he, being a Jew, would speak to her.
Do we practice the same level of courtesy and courage?
Do we actively, courteously connect with other humans across the lines that “everyone knows” are not safe to cross? – even if it seems to some that by doing that we are being disrespectful to our own race or religion or economic class?
3. Jesus’ disciples were surprised he would talk to – a woman,
not just because she was a Samaritan. At least, that is the only reason the author gives for their surprise. It shows Jesus violating not only racial and religious racist boundaries, but also breaking a strong pattern of gender discrimination.
4. Notice – he gives this woman, a Samaritan, a considerable honor.
Further, she is thus held up, for those who would hear or read John’s Gospel, as one deserving honest attention and courtesy. She was one of the earliest to interact with Jesus one-on-one about matters at the core of his ministry and of his Gospel.
Do we regularly honor people with our full attention and engagement, regardless of their social “qualification”?
Jesus is just willy nilly stepping on all the racist, discriminatory toes around.
5. Another time Jesus made a Samaritan to be the hero of one of his most famous, dramatic stories.
- It was the gay man who was the good guy.
- It was the Musilm who was the hero.
- It was the illegal immigrant who did the right thing.
- It wasthe African-American felon who was spiritually superior.
- It was the atheist who showed the religious people how to behave.
- It was the preacher and the good conservative Christian who “walked by on the other side.”
I’m not exaggerating.
And the moral of the story, according to Jesus? “Ok. Now you go and behave as that vile religiously corrupt racial mongrel has demonstrated so well for you.”
“You go and do likewise.”
His practice and teaching simply ignored the strong, precious ways Jewish males set themselves apart.
They saw themselves as above everyone else on earth. Wow. But here is Jesus deliberately, firmly setting all that aside. Boom!
Is not this true – that if we claim to believe in Jesus we must let his teaching become in practice the guide of our lives? Even when he is deliberately provocative like in his story of “The Good Samaritan.” We must. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?”