Jesus was a great story teller. Those raised in conservative Mennonite homes and communities are very familiar with his stories.
Ask any of us about ‘the parable of the good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37) and we will tell you of a man who was traveling, who was attacked by bandits, left for dead, ignored by two passersby and finally helped by a good man. The man, a good Samaritan.
Some of us might even be able to explain how the Samaritans were looked down upon by the audience Jesus was addressing. And also that those two who passed this man in desperate need of help (even crossed to the other side of the road) were important religious leaders and might have not wanted to risk defiling themselves by touching a man who by appearances was dead.
The moral to the story is in the question it answered. Jesus was being questioned by a person identified as an “expert in the law” who was asking initially about how to gain immortality. Jesus asks him what the law says and the man quotes the part of their law where it says to love God and your neighbor. But, when Jesus tells the man he’s correct the man (being a legal expert) needs further definition of terms, he asks:
Who is my neighbor?
The typical definition of neighbor is those people who live next door to us. Those people with the annoying yappy dog who you might wave to while pulling out of the drive. Good Americans where I live and the kind who will offer to help push when your car is stuck in the snow.
But Jesus uses the parable to extend the definition of neighbor. When he finishes the story he asks which of the three was the neighbor and the expert tells him it was the one who had mercy. So, simple, cut and dried, we help a couple people with a broke down car or give a twenty to some homeless guy, pay our taxes on time and we are a good neighbor, right?
Well, maybe, maybe not…
Samaritan today means a helpful stranger. The Samaritans when Jesus spoke were despised people and an enemy to those listening. I think the parable might be told differently today.
If Jesus were speaking to a conservative audience he might have the story of the two responsible gun owners, the stupid irresponsible traveler (who got what he deserved) and a good illegal immigrant. If he was telling it to a liberal audience it could be about the two politically correct professors, the aborted black inner-city child and a good redneck.
More interesting is that the enemies of Israel today, Palestinians, have Samaritan blood. So even after two thousand years the story is relevant in the place and religious setting it was originally told to. In today’s language it could be told as the story of the good Palestinian or good Muslim.
It could be any scenario where a person who has a historical grievance lays it aside to care for the ‘privileged’ person who may have previously treated them like dirt. It is a story for a downtrodden and unimportant person helped a stranger when the people who should’ve helped didn’t.
So what does this have to do with Mennonite Millenials?
It is a quirky thing, but we probably have an easier time flying to the opposite side of the world than we do with being neighborly with our actual neighbors. We may travel to some far away place to spend a week or two cleaning up from a typhoon. It is exciting to experience a new culture. The more dedicated may even spend years in a remote village somewhere or some other exotic outpost.
Yet, if we were asked to do something we personally find dull or undesirable, if there were a task we considered beneath our abilities, would we do it?
The men who passed by the beaten man were probably men with vision. They had important tasks to do that could not be compromised by the needs of a person who probably should’ve known better anyhow. They were missionaries, the equivalent of church leaders and had big things on their minds. They also lived in a world of abstraction or theory and neglected practical application.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)
Who’s least or greatest changes with cultural context. We probably don’t think of a Samaritan as being lower than us. We may not harbor animosity or a superior attitude to other races. But we still do have our prejudices. We still have our own religious rites or rituals that take precedent over practicality. We still look too far down the road.
Think globally, act locally!
This generation is better equipped with technology, has greater access to information and the world. But it is also a very narcissistic and self-absorbed generation. With some of us the problem is not fear, the lack of opportunity (like prior generations) or the complacency that is common today, but for us the problem could be arrogance. We need to be reminded that there is nothing too small for us to do.
Don’t be too important to do little things. Indeed, sometimes it is a small amount of humility that does the world more good than the grandest of visions or best of experiences. Don’t be aloof, don’t be a religious idealist, don’t be prejudicial against anyone, be a neighbor!