Friday, October 12, 2012

Othering people.

Last night, one of our church small groups met in our home.  We are studying Paul Miller's Love Walked Among Us.  Part of the study is looking at the parables of Jesus.  Last week, we looked at the widow of Nain and Jesus restoring her son to life. We talked about the fact that Jesus really looked at her, really saw her, felt compassion,  met her need and restored her to her community by raising her son from the dead.
 This week, we did the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Good Samaritan is probably the most famous of all the parables...except maybe the Prodigal Son.  We get our "Good Samaritan" laws from the story-those protective laws that allow us to help a person in harms way without fear of retribution.  The importance of those laws were really brought home to us as China does not have "Good Samaritan" laws and if you help a person in crisis, you can be arrested and blamed for the accident.
The story of the Good Samaritan is  told in the gospel of Luke and it is simple and complex. The Samaritans are a  group despised by the Jews.  They are considered half breeds, they have intermarried with pagans, they worship wrongly and at the wrong mountain.  Earlier in Luke, a city of Samaritans reject Jesus and the some of the disciples ask Jesus if he would like them to pray for fire to be rained on them.  Jesus rejects this idea and tells them that he has come to save people, not destroy them.
Later, a young "expert in the Law" asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answers back from the Law with the answer that all Jews of the time know - "Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind."  and then He adds "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The expert "seeking to justify himself" (and don't we all do that) ask him who is neighbor is.
So Jesus (as He so often does) tells a story.
Basically- a man is walking in a deserted area of Israel. He is taken by bandits, robbed and beaten and left for dead.  Two prestigious people come by (a priest and a Levite-religious and authority figures in Jewish culture) and continue to walk/ride by.  They are possible too busy to help, to afraid to help, fearful of religious uncleanness, lacking in compassion or whatever.  For whatever reason, they refuse to help. Since they were important people, I wonder if they were traveling alone and if their whole group refused to help.  Scripture doesn't say this but it's something to ponder.
But a Samaritan walks by and helps. He takes him to an inn, cleans his wounds, pays for his stay and says he will be back to check on him. The Samaritan shows himself to be the good neighbor, not the esteemed people of the culture.  It's a powerful story.
But last night, a woman in our group said something that really struck me. She asked "I wonder what the man who was victimized felt like to be cared for by a Samaritan."  What was it like to wake up and realize that the person who was caring for was from a group that he had been taught to despise?
To apply it to today...what if you woke up and the person caring from you was from a group that you despise?  An injured person who believes in strict gun control is being cared for by a member of the NRA.  A gay person being cared for by a person who is working against gay marriage.  An ideological Democrat being cared for by a dogmatic Republican.  A soldier being cared for by a peace activist.  A progressive Christian being cared for by a fundamentalist.  You get my point.
It is easy to "other" people, to dismiss them as part of a group.  The poor, the gays, the liberals, the conservatives, the Calvinists, the.....whatever.  It's easy to dismiss a group.  It's harder to dismiss a person.
A while ago some friends were visiting.  We had a great time until towards they end, one of our friends made a comment about an issue. I strongly disagreed with her...very strongly.  It was tempting to simply "other" her.  But that would demean the friendship.  We had to agree to let it go and agree to disagree.
In our many years in ministry, one thing that we have learned is that people are not the sum of one experience.  If we have had a bad experience with someone, that does not dismiss all of who they are as people.  It is entirely possible for us to have a bad experience with someone....and for others to find that person delightful and warm.
This is not to negate those differences or to say that differences are  not serious.  Just some thoughts that people are people, not ideas and ideologies and that to group or "other" them is not the way of Jesus.


  1. Wow! I love it when a simple question (I wonder what the man who was victimized felt like to be cared for by a Samaritan?) takes a well-worn, nothing-new-to-be-learned-here parable and turns it on its ear. Powerful stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love that! I think it's important for me to befriend those whom I disagree with and see things through their eyes. I find myself having a greater respect for them and for their views.