“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …” (Isaiah 61:1-2)
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“Jesus was clearly not a pastoral counselor, but one in the prophetic line who denounced injustice and oppression on behalf of the poor.” – Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Historically the church has been very good at “flinging a coin to a beggar”. When confronted with a need we do not pass on the other side of the road. Like the Good Samaritan “moved with pity”, we will stop and provide charitable assistance. When we see the hungry we stop and offer food. When we see the homeless we stop and start shelters and build homes. When we see victims of natural disasters we quickly share a generous portion of our abundance. I thank God that the church is so easily moved by compassion and has so willingly “played the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside”.
But King is right, to play the Good Samaritan is only the initial act.
Charity is an initial act but it is not all that is needed and, more importantly, required of us. If all we do is bind up and heal those who are beaten up on life’s Jericho’s road we will have failed to share all the good news. We are to be about the work transforming the road so that folk don’t keep getting beaten up.
We are reminded of our call to social transformation as we travel the Lenten road with Jesus. By the time we get to Golgotha we are painfully aware that Jesus is not being crucified for his acts of charity to the poor. He ends up between two thieves because, as Richard Shaull says, he “. . acted on behalf of the poor. In so doing, he subverts the established order. Therefore the order kills him. If Jesus had respected the law, the Jewish ‘constitution’ of the Sanhedrin, the reigning order and the socially acceptable virtues, he would have died an old man within the confines of the city. But he died outside the city–crucified. . . .”
Clearly we are called to play the part of the Good Samaritan and not the priest or the Levite. But after that initial act we are also called to play the part of the liberator who died outside the city. The liberator who seeks us to join him in challenging and changing systems which make Good Samaritans necessary.
by Peter Wells
Consultant – Center for Progressive Renewal