Text: Luke 10:25-37 (“the Good Samaritan”)
Do some lives matter more than others?
The premise of the Black Lives Matter movement is that Black people in North America are not valued as highly as other groups. They live with more insecurity and poverty than people of European descent; and the police and courts too often treat the rights and lives of Black people in a cavalier and discriminatory fashion.
Black Lives Matter has been in the news a lot recently. It has organized protests against police shootings in many cities — including a protest here in Edmonton. On July 3, the Toronto wing disrupted the Pride Parade. On July 7, a deranged sniper hijacked a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas to murder five police officers. On July 12, a Canadian who was singing “O Canada” at the opening of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game changed the lyrics to include All Lives Matter, which is a slogan designed to counter Black Lives Matter. At last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland the slogan Blue Lives Matters, which refers to police, was cheered to the rafters while Black Lives Matter was only heard in the voices of protestors outside the convention.
Today as we reflect on Jesus’ story about a Good Samaritan, we confront the painful reality that not all lives seem to matter equally in the streets, the courts, and the media; and we ask how we can love our neighbour in a racist world.
Racism is both a personal challenge and an historical reality. Before the modern era, people from different continents had little or no contact with each other. But since 1500, the world has been connected through war, conquest, and colonization. Our economy is now based on a world market and culture is global. The stitching together of humanity continues through migration, trade, and electronic media. But the wounds of colonial violence remain, and current wars are creating new wounds.
In order to conquer foreign nations, colonizing powers discounted the worth of the lives they destroyed. This is the background to racism towards First Nations people in North America today.
In a similar way, the enslavement of Black Africans by European powers from the 1500s to the 1800s led European leaders to create racist ideologies. The racism they created lives on in the social conditions faced by Black people and in personal attitudes.
News media imply that not all lives matter equally. When a terror attack occurs in a Western country, it dominates the headlines even if this coverage distorts the dangers posed by such attacks and submerges the reality of other dangers we face.
When a terrorist attack occurs in a non-Western country, it usually receives less coverage. A suicide bombing of minority demonstrators yesterday in Afghanistan provides an example. Even though ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack, which killed more then 80 people, it was a lot harder to find news of it this morning on the Edmonton Journal website than a mass murder of nine people in Germany on Friday that was not motivated by terrorism.
This is the context in which we hear Jesus’ parable about a Good Samaritan. It tells of a Jewish man robbed, beaten and left for dead; how he is ignored by two Jewish leaders; and the surprising source from which his help finally comes — a Samaritan who is a member of an ethnic group hated by many Jews of that time.
Jesus tells the parable in a conversation with an expert in religious law. This man’s summary of the law – to love God and love your neighbour as yourself — is the same as the one given by Jesus (Mark 12). When the expert asks Jesus to define the word “neighbour,” Jesus tells his famous parable.
At the end of the story, Jesus asks the religious expert which of the three men was neighbour to the man who fell in with the robbers. The expert points to the Samaritan, the one who showed the robbery victim kindness.
When thinking of this parable in the past, I assumed that love of neighbour referred to the actions of the Samaritan. But now I wonder if it doesn’t also refer to the wounded man’s feelings toward the Samaritan. Maybe the commandment “love your neighbour” is not just about acting with kindness towards strangers. Maybe it is also about loving those who help us even if we have been taught to hate them.
All of us are wounded in some ways. We all rely on other people, including strangers who help us in ways both known and unknown.
Sometimes, help comes to us from people we know. At other times, it comes to us from members of a religious or ethnic group we may fear or despise.
The parable doesn’t offer easy solutions, but it does point to our common humanity.
We are all broken souls who need help from the kind actions of our neighbours.
This summer feels like a tense season to me. The realities of a more united world are evident in intercultural cities all around the world. There is no way to undo the intermingling of people from different continents and cultures of the past 500 years, nor would that be desirable.
Nevertheless, in the face of economic and social strains, groups like Donald Trump’s Republicans, nationalists in Europe, and terrorists like ISIS call for an end to integration. They demand that people of each tribe retreat behind walls and shun foreigners.
There are many reasons behind the rise of racist movements. One of them is an identity crisis. Many of us remember a past with less diversity. In times of rapid change, we may look to that past to establish a sense of self. Instead of identifying with humanity as a whole — especially given the violence that has united the world so far — we may seek safety by identifying with our nation or our grandparents’ culture.
The challenge for us as a church is to create an identity that is both universal and future-oriented and one that is also rooted in the past. In the face of the violent unification of the world, we desire a conscious and humane unity; and we also want the unique strand of our ancestors to be a part of the rainbow of humanity.
Jesus’ parable calls us to love people who support us even if they are not of our own tribe. In the era of globalization, this group expands to include everyone: factory workers in Indonesia; students in Egypt; hip-hop artists in Los Angeles; First Nations workers in Edmonton; Internet activists in Iran; and so on.
I applaud those who advocate for an economy that is not only global but also humane; those who create neighbourhoods that reflect the richness of many languages, ethnicities, and cultures; and those who call for an end to the wars that have extended the violence of colonial times into a neo-colonial present.
Overcoming racism does not seem easy. But I think we can tackle it in many ways. Outreach to the neighbourhood through initiatives like The Bread Run connects us to others in a way similar to the connection made by the Samaritan to the victim of the robbery. Initiatives like Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations people help to lessen racist attitudes, improve conditions, and heal our broken hearts. Protests against Western wars in former colonies — from Vietnam in the 60s, to Iraq in the 2000s, to the next global crisis tomorrow — reflect our desire that all people be treated as children of God regardless of nationality or skin colour.
In all of these actions, we build an appreciation for the economic, cultural and spiritual contributions of our ever-expanding circle of neighbours.
Loving our neighbours involves outreach, advocacy, and a heart open to people in their wild diversity. It means standing with those who protest police brutality, who welcome refugees regardless of culture or race, who support indigenous rights, and who fight for the right of LGBTQ people to love free of hatred or violence.
These actions may not result in immediate victories for the oppressed. But they strengthen our identity as children of God and as bearers of the image of God’s Love. Loving our neighbours reminds us that we are supported by the whole rainbow of humanity.
The human family has been united by violence and conquest and so it is often filled with pain and fear. But it is a family that also contains many members who are trying to heal its wounds in acts of compassion. The actions of all these Good Samaritans and our love for them give us hope. They assure us that a united humanity can become ever-more beautiful and loving.
May it be so. Amen