Luke 10:25-37 – A modern interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. One you’re going to hate. Embrace that feeling because it’s probably how the religious lawyer in the original Gospel lesson felt upon hearing Jesus tell it to him. Here we go:
Just then a devout US Christian who was also a political party activist stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher’ he said. ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the bible? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A candidate was running for office, and fell into the hands of political enemies, who stripped the candidate’s credibility and integrity, berated the candidate verbally, and went away, leaving the candidate dehumanized and the nation divided. Now by chance an activist of the same party was going down that road; and when he saw the candidate, he passed by on the other side because the candidate wasn’t ideologically pure. So likewise an elected official of the same party, when he came to the place and saw the candidate, passed by on the other side, not wanting to be dragged down by the reputation of the candidate. But an activist of the opposition party while traveling came near the candidate; and when he saw the candidate, he was moved with pity. He went to the candidate and bandaged the candidate’s wounds, having asked for forgiveness for his own past dehumanizing statements and offering a prayer of peace. Then he put the candidate on his own prayer list, gave the candidate respect all humans deserve, and took care to ensure that he only spoke respectfully of the candidate even when they disagreed about policy. The next day he wrote two articles, posted them on social media that said, “Take care of this candidate for the candidate may win and we will need to be a country that espouses forgiveness, mercy, peace and love in order to face the challenges that will come.” Jesus asked: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the candidate who fell into the hands of their enemies?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed the candidate mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
If you want to really understand the message that Jesus was conveying to the religious lawyer in the original version of the text (and how upsetting it would have been to hear it), then try rewriting the parable into your own context like I did. If it helps, substitute in specific names. i.e. in place of “candidate,” put in your presidential choice. For “activist in the opposition party,” put in Republican or Democrat – whichever you are not aligned with. I tried doing just that with this modern interpretation. My reaction was “ouch, that hurts. Boy have I failed here plenty of times.”
We can justify attacking political opponents – “They are wrong, don’t you know? Don’t be an idiot, can you see how wrong they are?!?”
We can offer “prayers” to God that ask Jesus to empower worldly rulers and politicians to defeat our political enemies and opponents for the sake of country and party unity. We pray that all people will be enlightened by the purity of our ideological beliefs – how God must get a kick out of some of our prayers!
We can call our political opponents names and give them vicious labels that we believe they so readily deserve for what they have said and what they supposedly stand for.
We can show how our side is right and the other side is wrong. And not just wrong, but dangerous, possibly even evil because of what we believe they stand for.
We can dehumanize, degrade, and diminish them all in the name of defending our own version of the truth and defending the country. And we can say that the other side started it – we have to finish it. We can point out how they and their policies are the reason we are screwed up and so divided. If only they would see the light and believe our beliefs and do what we think is right.
We can do all of these things and we do so very often. This week and next are prime examples that jump in our face. The conventions of these two political parties will shout out the doctrines of pure belief in party and leader. They will preach to us how their anointed one will save the nation and defeat evil incarnate represented by the opposing party and candidate. They will define who is our neighbor and who is not our neighbor. They will use the language of religion and use God – claiming that God is on their side and against the enemy.
But we don’t have to be this way. We are called to something much better. We Christians are called by Jesus to be a neighbor to all, even, and especially our political opponents. That might suck because it means we have to be the ones who start treating our opponents and enemies differently – not waiting for them to start. It would be great to get a last dig in, but that’s not what Jesus calls us to. No, instead he calls us to a different life – outside of the bickering of left vs. right. He calls on us to be a neighbor to all, regardless of human labels and divisions, because we are all part of God’s creation and whether we like it or not, we are God’s children. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to be a neighbor to all, regardless of what they would do to us or the country. We don’t get to decide who’s in and who is out – that’s not ours to decide. In the kingdom of God, there is no us vs. them. Jesus calls us to be a neighbor, especially to those we are taught are our enemies. It’s being a peacemaker. It’s dying to self. It’s what it means to follow. It’s not fair, but then again, Jesus and God aren’t interested in what’s fair. Instead, it is a very real example of the kingdom of God unfolding right before our eyes.