bible, Good samaritan, inspiration, Jesus, Jude, Luke, Mel Gibson, neighbor
It’s a good question. One that we should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. As is my usual method, a number of instances which brought this question to mind coalesce, and I realize that God is asking me to probe more deeply.
The Gospel today was from Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. As you recall, Jesus relates the story of the man who is beaten and robbed and left by the side of the road. Both a priest and Levite pass by, apparently following ritual purity laws, moving to the other side of the road.
A Samaritan sees the man and comes to his aid. “Who is the neighbor?” Jesus asks. Of course the answer is obvious. As our rector said, the question asked by the lawyer,”Who is my neighbor?” also seems obvious and unnecessary to ask in the first place.
But, I can see the lawyer’s dilemma. We don’t treat everyone the same, so perhaps not are our neighbor. Yet Jesus seems to imply that there is but one answer: everyone is my neighbor.
Unfortunately it was not and is not so clear to us, I don’t think.
It was clear to William James in his classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience. In a lecture on saintliness, he points out that saints are noted for their treatment of all persons with equal love and charity. Unlike the rest of us who are all too willing to fight “fire with fire” and treat others with the same meanness they may treat us.
James is unwilling to let go of the saints being the better angels here. In a rare insight into the human psyche, he claims, regarding the tendency to categorize humans into “good, bad, and in the middle:”
“We have no right to speak of human crocodiles and boa-constrictors as of fixedly incurable beings. We know not the complexities of personality, the smouldering emotional fires, the other facets of the character polyhedron, the resources of the subliminal region. St. Paul long ago made our ancestors familiar with the idea that every soul is virtually sacred. Since Christ died for us all without exception. . . .”
Yet, far seeing as his sentiments are, we need look no further than scripture to find plenty of evidence that suggests that we must too be wary.
St. Jude says this in Jude 17:20-25:
When there are some who have doubts, reassure them; when there are some to be saved from the fire, pull them out; but there are others to whom you must be kind with great caution, keeping your distance even from the outside clothing which is contaminated by vice.
I’m not sure what is being presented here. But clearly it does not sound like Jesus’ words to the lawyer, nor that all are our neighbors without fail. Jude seems to suggest that we must be careful of the truly evil among us, keeping our distance as he says.
It confuses me assuredly.
But it reflects certainly who I am.
One need not spend a long time on this blog to realize I have very unkind things to say about any number of people I consider to be self-serving evil presences among us. We can start there.
But I really got to thinking about this after the latest rounds of excrement to exit the mouth of Mel Gibson. We have long since decided that we no longer can watch Mr. Gibson’s movies, given his past expressions of racist thinking. It seems now that this man considers all who are not white to be something scornful and not quite as good as himself.
It’s all ironic given that Jesus was a Jew. And with all due respect for Mr. Gibson’s ultra orthodox positions, most scholars are pretty clear that Jesus had no desire nor intent to become something else. He seemed intent on correcting Judaism, not starting a new religion altogether.
Given that Mr. Gibson has noted his displeasure with Jews, African Americans and Latinos, I suspect he harbors no love for Arabs, Eskimos or American Native peoples, to say nothing of Asians, Indians and Greenlanders.
Overall, I’m inclined to think rather poorly of the man, again as I say, so ironic, given his ultra conservative position as a Roman Catholic. I don’t know as I’ve heard an explanation as to why he had an affair, a child out of wedlock, and is either in the midst of, or legally divorced. None of these comport with the rigid believes of the right wing Roman Catholic. I have no idea whether he receives communion, but those who espouse his positions regularly call for the barring of various politicians from receiving, based only on their voting record on abortion.
I figure, based on the Samaritan story that I shouldn’t think so ill of Mr. Gibson. I would like to think I would assist him should I find him bloodied and beaten in the street. But I’m not so sure I’d invite him in for dinner. Jude suggests perhaps that is a wise choice on my part, but, frankly between Jesus and Jude, I’m opting that Jesus carries the weight.
Maybe I’m missing something here. I guess it’s pretty clear that sainthood is not right around my corner, at least. If you have any ideas about where to draw this line, I’d be happy to hear them.
“Human crocodiles and boa constrictors” … says it all about the most predatory among us … the sociopaths.
“Be kind with great caution” (to those whose behaviour merits the caution) … wisest advice I’ve read in a while 🙂
You nail it, Sherry, by saying that you’d aid a broken person in the street — even if he was your ethical nemesis — but you’d be less likely to invite him into your home for a meal.
There are two definite lines I perceive there –> a line of decent, practical response to injury … and a line of hospitality and welcoming that involves inviting another person into your home to share a meal. There isn’t an act much more intimate than sharing food … and the Eucharist is a central sacrament which reflects a perennial understanding of this. We share, in a meal, the “stuff” (substance) that keeps us alive … and many wisdom traditions consider the ultimate expression of peace-making to be a dinner invitation accepted and honoured (including, and especially, Middle Eastern cultures!).
Yes … there are certain individuals I’ve encountered over the years to whom I would not offer a dinner invitation … and if any of them wanted me at their deathbed, I’d go in a flash. I mean by this that I would go with a depth of forgiveness for however this person had harmed me, and attend only to the soul who is soon to depart.
I did attend the death of one such person … and it was the most sacred experience of my life.
thanks a lot, Sherry … fantastic food for thought.
Jaliya, I think you speak the issue of hospitality perfectly. Yet I think Jesus did share meal with those whom he would have claimed as sinners. We perhaps no not the depth of their sin. Perhaps they were compelled by desires which they want to overcome and have not succeeded as of yet. Sort of like the repentant alcoholic who still cannot avoid the drink. But you comment is most compelling and I thank you for the remarks regarding the attendance at deal. I’ve never do so myself. It must be an amazing event.
John Anngeister said:
Sherry, I think Gibson’s celebrity status takes him out of the picture vis-a-vis the Samaritan parable.
Not that mugged or beaten celebrities are not to be treated with compassion 🙂 but I think the key in the story is that the beaten man is wholly unknown to the passers-by, including the Samaritan.
Jesus has the victim in fact stripped of his clothing so that there are no clues as to ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group.’ This dovetails nicely into Paul’s later teaching of “neither Jew nor Greek, male or female,” etc.
The telling thing is that the Samaritan aids the man without consideration for whether he is ‘one of us.’ This is a truth which Gibson needs to hear more than you, I think. What you (and I) maybe need vis-a-vis Gibson is the teaching on love of enemies 🙂
Come to think of it, the greatness of the Samaritan parable may be that it weeds out that portion of everyone’s special ‘enemies’ group who are simply held in contempt for no cause other than their identity (again, Gibson needs this lesson). It kind of cleans up the stage, leaving a much smaller pool of so-called enemies for the other teaching – only those individuals who have actually attacked our selves or our values (again, this is the ground where we have to get over our animus for Gibson). Hmmm. Or something.
Anyway, thanks for the post, and the blog, food for thought this morning.
John, your points are exceedingly interesting. I shall have to think on them. I do indeed see your dicotomy and it is entirely reasonable it seems to me. Perhaps Jesus tells us we shall not ask “who are you” but we just minister to the needs of the person. Perhaps a distinction is drawn by those who have acted out in demonstrably harmful ways.
Good question Sherry. Jesus question is interesting. The lawyer wants to know who his neighbour is – ie how will he know who he should help if he sees them lying by the road? For an orthodox Jew of his day, the answer was, your neighbour was your fellow Jew, and if you weren’t sure, you need not help. Jesus, however, flips the question over, applying it to the one in a position to help. The priest and levite, immersed in Jewish law, act in an un-neighbourly way. The Samaritan, woefully ignorant of this law (and of a hated race) acts out of compassion. The message – the law is an ass, do what you know to be right.
We could apply this to Mr Gibson – Mel, do you show compassion to anyone, or only to those of your own race and religion? However, Jesus says we should take the log out of our own eye first. How can we act in a neighbourly way to Mr Gibson? Not meaning him personally, since we are never likely to meet him, but those like him who express hatred for people who are different. I think the answer is twofold – return love for hatred, blessings for curses; and don’t be like them, show them and those they hate a better way. Gibson’s racist rants are inexcusable but he also has an alcohol addiction which is ruining his life and the lives of those around him, and that’s desperately sad.
JOn, I see you point. I would argue that Jesus didn’t say the law is an ass, but rather that the Pharisees had perverted by their interpretation, the real meaning of the law. you are most correct that to a Jew of the day, neighbor meant Jew. However, Leviticus also covers the alien among you, and that should have applied here.
You are well to point out that we should not spend much time delving into Mr. Gibsons failures, but rather on how we should respond. Good comment. Thank you.
Sherry, as a film buff, Gibson’s worth has been negligible since “Mad Max.” I don’t think I’ve got through one of his films since then. As a Christian, I view his Catholic claims in similar fashion. The actor who needs a great director but consistently opts for hacks he can bully is no different to me than the believer who needs sound shepherding but opts for weak-minded extremists. Vanity swirls around this man like a Kansas tornado and he’s reaping the whirlwind.
But, ah, as a follower of Jesus, what to do with crazy Mel? That’s the question. And I don’t know, since, as John points out, the Samaritan analogy doesn’t really fit. He may be closer to Lot, a stubborn, self-enthralled rich guy who refuses to recognize how dangerous his situation is. Then the fire falls. And, as Jon mentions, like Lot, Mel’s family are the victims here. They’re who I see fitting into the Samaritan tale.
Jude does come off as harsh and contradictory to Christ–until we realize it refers to the Mels, people who don’t care about the harm they visit on themselves and others. It is they, not we, who tack the “Keep Out” sign on their doors. Keeping them at arm’s length feels wrong, but in terms of protecting those they injure, it is an act of compassion. So who is the neighbor in Jude? The victims of the antagonist’s disobedience and inhumanity. We reach out to them. Meanwhile, in terms of the Mels, we do what an old saint advised me to do years and years ago. “Some people,” she said, “you can only love with a long-handled spoon.”
Tough stuff, Sherry. But good stuff–stuff we need to wrestle with if we’re to do the work we’ve been given effectively.
Thanks Tim, you did a good job of synthesizing some of the responses for me. All the responses in fact have helped me to align the apparent inconsistencies expressed in the two pieces of scripture.
It’s interesting to compare Gibson to Lot. I’ll have a think on that. I always thought that if Lot was righteous, he was a strange righteous one.
I can now see Jude more clearly. You all seem to suggest that Jude refers to the one who actually deliberately causes harm. A priest once told me, we need not like the ones we love in brotherly love. I think perhaps that is the answer.