Almost every week I see some sort of announcement on social media about an event that speaks to Christians responding to Islam. Generally, these announcements add the phrase “in light of [insert phrase].” The [insert phrase] has been everything from “recent attacks” to “current political climate” to “refugee crisis.”
But never have I seen an announcement that reads this: A Talk on Christians responding to Islam in Light of the Good Samaritan.
When I was twelve years old, my mom and I were in a bad car accident. It was the monsoon season in Murree and we were driving in the rain. In the best of times, these were winding mountain roads. During the monsoons, they were also wet and slippery. We were headed to my school for an event when a can of brake fluid slid under my mom’s foot. She veered and we went over the cliff. Miraculously, what stopped us from rolling over to a certain death was thick barbed wire. I knew my mom was hurt and that we needed help. There were no cell phones. There were no pay phones. We knew that we were in a precarious situation, where abrupt movements could mean that our heavy Landrover would slide further down the cliff. The area was isolated; it could be minutes or hours before the next car came by. Out of nowhere came a public bus, filled with Pakistanis. I will never forget the kindness of the men who peered in through the window and pulled us out of the car to safety. We were other. We were not Pakistani, we had no citizenship, we did not share the same beliefs, we did not share the same customs. But that didn’t matter. We were in trouble, and they rescued us.
This is the story that I think of when I think of the well-known parable that has lasted through the ages. A parable that inspires Good Samaritan Laws across the world. The parable of the Good Samaritan.
The parable lies in the Gospel of Luke, the 10th chapter. We are told that a teacher of the law came to Jesus. He asks a question about eternal life. Jesus, the one who sees hearts and hears the real questions, the questions of the soul, poses the question back to him. After all, the man is an expert when it comes to the law, schooled in Rabbinical studies. We can be sure that he knew the Ten Commandments and more. So the teacher of the law says something that he has known and memorized for a long time. “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.” Jesus answers in the affirmative. “You’re correct,” he says. In other words, “You got this. Go do it and you’ll live.”
But the man presses further. “Who is my neighbor?” Who do I have to really love, and who can I dismiss. Who is my real neighbor?
This is when Jesus begins to tell a story. It takes place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a windy narrow road and a perfect place to be robbed. A man is beaten up, left naked and almost dead. A priest who serves in the temple in Jerusalem walks by, sees him, and crosses to the other side. Then a Levite, who also serves in the temple, walks by. The same thing happens. The man who is beaten up is one of them, he is not ‘other,’ yet they don’t stop. So along comes a Samaritan. Samaritans were despised and detested. Jews of the day would not associate with them. Jewish travelers would add 40 kilometers onto a trip rather than go through Samaria. They considered Samaritans heretics and enemies. The Samaritans had equal animosity toward the Jews. They could not stand them. But Jesus gives us a counterculture picture of a Samaritan who sees the one who is ‘other’ and has deep pity on him. He can’t leave him there. So he bandages him up, he pours oil and wine on his wounds, and he puts him on his donkey and takes him to shelter. He pays the innkeeper and asks him to take care of the man. “I’ll return,” he says. “I’ll come back and I’ll pay any extra expense.”
It’s at this point that I realize this: We just don’t get it. We don’t get the weight of this story. This was huge. Loving others isn’t about loving those who are like us or who believe like we do. In God’s sight, loving and caring for others is not defined or confined to ethnicity, religious belief or lack of belief, nationality, lifestyle, or any other category.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?” Jesus finishes his story with a question. A question with a simple answer: “The one who had mercy on him.”
The hardest part of the story comes in the final four words: Go and do likewise.
The words are not a suggestion or an idea. The words are a command.
Why is it so hard? Why is our default pattern to think of our neighbor as someone who is like us, someone who we like?
Throughout the Middle East, I watched Christians who were not afraid of their Muslim neighbors. I watched Christians who had lost everything, yet still they prayed for those who had hurt them. I heard powerful words of love and grace. I heard the words:“Though the road may be long and filled with our blood, we will go back bearing olive branches. Love is stronger than hate.” Throughout my life, I was given grace by Muslim neighbors and friends, I was literally rescued from a car accident by men that I never saw again, Muslim men with long beards and prayer beads.
But I watch now and I shake my head. We in the West somehow don’t think the story of the Good Samaritan applies to us. “What about national security” “What about preserving our ‘way of life’” (whatever that means) “What about the sacredness of our soil?” I have heard these cries in the past few years. These words make me shake my head in dismay and disbelief. These are the cries of Christians.
If we would stop to listen, the words of Jesus come quietly, insistently:
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor?
The one who had mercy on him.
Go – and do likewise.