Excerpt from my sermon on Luke 10 last June:
We want to believe we would stop on the road, if we knew the person who was wounded was actually Jesus. He wants to get us close enough to tell that they are, so that we can respond with overwhelming love. Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, 5 police officers killed and 7 wounded in Dallas during the protest of these deaths. Let’s be just as enraged about the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, as we are about the 5 police officers killed by a sniper in Dallas. We can hold vigil for those killed in terrorist attacks in Baghdad or Istanbul just as heart-felt as for Paris. Because human beings are children of God, no matter where they are or what they look like.
But Jesus knows we have trouble keeping all things equal, even if we won’t admit it to ourselves. We have systemic prejudices, just as Jesus’ original audience did. Which I suspect is why, he gives only one word to describe the victim in the parable he tells about the Good Samaritan: “a man” was on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Just “a man”. No more descriptors: no race or religion, no indications of wealth or poverty, morals or lack thereof. Nothing but a man. A human. In fact, because we have no more information, maybe this man is a Samaritan too, but if Jesus had described him that way, would his audience immediately have excused the behavior of the by-standers, because Samaritan lives are worth less to them, and priests or Levites cannot be expected to be made unclean by coming too close? It might just be understood that Samaritans are threatening in some way, so no one would think worse of you for keeping your distance. Or maybe no one would admit it aloud, but deeply embedded in the ways they were raised to think about Samaritans, they would assume that victim, if he was a Samaritan, had it coming. They would start telling stories about him in their heads, making up a devious history, interrupting the story Jesus is trying to tell. He should not have been on that road, or must have somehow provoked the robbers who beat him and took everything off of him. The lawyer, in answering Jesus’ question at the end of the story, “Which of them has been a neighbor to the injured man?” cannot even bring himself to say: “the Samaritan.” He might have to spit after that word has been in his mouth. He only answers, “the one who showed him mercy.” Jesus knows how we are. He knows that we can be so blind to – yet controlled by – our own prejudices, he has to give his victim no description at all, or we will miss the point of the story: Have mercy, on the human being, the child of God who has been made a victim. Grieve what has happened to the human being, lament that we can be so horrible to each other. Act to change it, overwhelming the situation with love. There is no way to justify ourselves out of that. The point, I think, is that the victim in this parable is every man. Or better, every person. He’s you. He’s me. And he’s Jesus. And his life matters. Jesus died for it to matter!