“Solidarity challenges any tendency to establish a relational identity by identifying exclusively with a finite community. If we overidentify with one community, even a particular church, we tend to become defensive about rival communities. This misplaced devotion leads to inner division and social defensiveness. When a finite community becomes the exclusive source of value and meaning, a limited portion of reality is inflated to stand for the whole. That is how idols are made; the loyalty that should be directed to the One God is concentrated on one group. Loyalty that fails to be sufficiently inclusive eventually becomes exclusive. The rights of my group are pitted against the claims of all others. Militant nationalism, racism and a host of other ‘evil imaginations of the heart’ proceed from defensive loyalties.”
~ William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics
The parable of the good Samaritan is a familiar story that challenges our superficial understanding and conditional practice of love and mercy. This story, its implications, its judgments and its charge to Christ’s disciples have been repeated for centuries. Still, we remain able only to have mercy on those we love and that love us. The question asked by the lawyer of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” reminds me of the question that Cain posed to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We know the law and present ourselves as those who desire to keep it. But, ultimately when we love, our motivations are self- serving. How does assisting or loving you help me? Cain desired that his offering be accepted by God while being exempted from accountability and the lawyer wanted to justify himself.
Both the priest and the Levite crossed the street when they saw the man. Those we might expect to help the injured man do not. Instead, it is the Samaritan and he is called good– not the priest or the Levite. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” But, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers (Luke 10.36, emphasis added)?” Our Lord concludes the parable with these instructions, “Go and do likewise.”
If race were telling the story as our rabbi, then the instructions, the ethical standard would have been quite different. The injured person would have had to be a member of our community. She or he would have had to “look” like us in order for us to identify with their pain and understand their need for medical assistance. “Go and do unto those who look like you. Help your race and be a credit to it,” race would have said. Because race calls for us to “overidentify with one community,” the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ and our desire to keep these two commandments is compromised. I like that Spohn describes it as a finite community. It is true. This solidarity will not always be. But, the community of God will.
Jesus challenges us as His disciples not to only assist those that we would consider our neighbor whether based on the social construct of race, economic/social class or gender. He does not ask that we serve a particular community; this loyalty causes us to be defensive. This is why we hoard resources, opportunities, supports and services for our neighbors. This is why we defend our rights and no one elses. But, instead of attempting to define which brother and sister we should be a keeper of or who our neighbor is, we should be asking ourselves if we are, if our behavior suggests that we are a brother or sister or neighbor.
As believers and as disciples, we must stand with Christ, the unsuspected Savior and Messiah, the good Samaritan of the world. God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice was and is for all. This is the community to which we have been called, to which all are called to belong (Romans 1.6). We must do as Christ says. We must “go and do likewise.”