Hi everyone. Rob here.
One of Jesus’ most radical stories is that of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37. It was given in response to a question from an expert in the law:
Who is my neighbour?
Jesus tells a story about a man beaten by bandits on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a not uncommon experience. A priest and then a Levite both ignored the man as they made their way to Jerusalem. If they had touched a bleeding man they would have rendered themselves unclean. But one man did help. He was a Samaritan; a group of people who claimed to be from Ephraim and Manasseh, but were regarded by the Jews as being of corrupt race and religion. The Jews tried to avoid them whenever possible. This man in Jesus’ story, a man who had suffered from prejudice his whole life, cared for the man out of pity and compassion. This man, Jesus says, was a neighbour to the beaten man because he showed the man mercy.
This parable challenges us on many levels. The priest and the Levite ignored the man because they had important roles to play in the running of the Jerusalem temple. Those roles gave them a valued place in society. However, their commitment to their religious roles took them away from the compassionate heart of the God they believed they were serving. The system hindered, rather than encouraged, compassion.
The Samaritan was regarded as irreligious. The Samaritans practiced Torah but didn’t regard the temple in Jerusalem as theirs. They were outside the system. They were also regarded as being of mixed race. Therefore, mixing with them would make you unclean. But this man’s heart was closer to God’s heart. The compassion and mercy that he showed pleased God. He reached out, not as Samaritan to Jew, but one human being to another. Jesus says to the law expert,
Go and do likewise.
The evil of racism is that it dehumanises others. By doing so it diminishes our shared human experience. God’s desire is this:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).
God doesn’t remove our differences; he embraces them and unites us before his throne. We’re equal. We all bear God’s image and we all learn from each other about what that means. In my beautiful country of New Zealand racism also has a long history. It also has threads of hope woven through it. I exist because of the union between a white man and a Maori woman. Our founding document is a Treaty between Maori and the Crown that, at its core, is a declaration of mutual honour. Our shame is that it wasn’t kept by subsequent colonial rulers and was ignored for far too long by successive governments. There was war, disease, land theft, language suppression and powerlessness. Things are changing for the better but it’s a long way up when you’ve sunk so low.
And here is where the murder (yes, murder!) of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer comes in. While we sunk low we had the foundation of the Treaty of Waitangi to land on and build from. In America there is a desperate need to apply the core creed of the Declaration of Independence to all races:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This was stated and slavery continued. Jim Crow laws enshrining segregation and a lack of civil rights passed. Economic oppression continues. Unarmed black people get shot by the police. Martin Luther King put the challenge in front of America to live up to this radical statement of human rights and dignity. The challenge still exists.
Both the Treaty of Waitangi and the Declaration of Independence came about because of a belief that God made human beings in God’s own image. This is the foundation of equality and is reinforced when Jesus took on flesh. The vision of Revelation tells us that unity in diversity is God’s idea. May our hearts be taken captive by God’s heart. May the followers of Christ lead the way into a racially just world. May we not be distracted by the symptoms but focus on the cause. May our own prejudices and attitudes be healed by the love of God so that we can be agents of hope in this world.
Grace and peace.