The parable of the Good Samaritan has perplexed me for the last few days …

When Jesus answered the expert in the law’s question, the one designed to rationalize not loving one’s neighbor, Jesus answered the Israelite with a story. He casted the victim as an Israelite and the protagonist as a Samaritan. By default most Israelites would therefore identify more with the victim than with the heroic Samaritan.

Jesus, turning the tables on the questioner, asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The interlocutor cannot get himself so far to name the Samaritan, so he answers “the one who had mercy on him.”

Two observations.

One, Jesus facilitates the Israelites to move from a position of victimization into the role of helper and by doing so creates a situation where they are faced with the goodness of their enemy. They move from being flattened and robbed on the ground to seeing the goodness of a hated enemy.

Second, one can only be neighborly (at least in this story) with one party acting and the other receiving. Love beckons a rhythmic oscillation between a willingness to give and an openness to receive. Becoming a person who “loves the neighbor” has to do with being there when the chips are down, moreover being open when others want to give you some help. Even if the helping hand comes from your enemy.

I suspect that, like me, you are more comfortable with being the Samaritan in this story. ‘Breaking stereotypes’ and ‘crossing boundaries’ have a ring of adventure and excitement to it. What about receiving from those people you’ve always characterized as evil and without any good? The lazy ones, the poor ones, the uneducated, the fundamentalist ones?

How can we allow these ones to be our Samaritans?
Yes, we are called to be someone’s Samaritan but we’re also called to receive a Samaritan in our lives.

I’m thinking about this with the racial question in South Africa in mind. As a white male I can easily cast myself into this story as the ‘white Samaritan’ bursting through the racial barriers and expectations of black people. What would it look like if I were to cast myself as the ‘white robbed one’ needing help instead of the ‘white robed one’ giving help?