Almost everyone is familiar with the story in Luke 10. A traveler is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he’s fallen upon by thieves. They beat him, rob him, and leave him half dead. By chance, both a Priest and a Levite happen to be traveling down the same road, but when they see the man, they pass by him on the other side. Finally a Samaritan passes by, sees the man in distress, and has compassion on him. He goes to him, binds up his wounds, and gives the man medicine. Then laying the man on his very own animal, the Samaritan brings him to a nearby inn, where he pays the innkeeper in advance to take care of the man, and offers to pay any other expenses the innkeeper might incur before the Samaritan can return. Jesus ends the story with the question, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Last Friday’s attacks in the city of Paris have left the world reeling, and left nations like our own asking the legitimate question, should we be willing to take refugees from Syria and other ISIS endangered countries, given the fact that some of those refugees may be terrorists in disguise?
I won’t pretend that the question is easy to answer. As Christians we’re commanded to love our neighbor, but that doesn’t mean we invite sociopaths and murderers in for dinner. Also, there is an aspect of loving our neighbor that means not allowing dangerous people to get close enough to them to do harm. If you saw a well-known murderer on your street, it would be loving and neighborly to call the police.
I also understand that for many Christians, it’s not that they don’t want to help the refugees, but given the decision-making of our government lately, they simply don’t trust them to vet and background check the refugees as thoroughly as they need to be.
Still, I can’t shake the words of Christ as I consider the question, “which of these proved to be a neighbor?”
Let’s look at the similarities. First, the man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. This was a notoriously dangerous road, inhabited by bands of marauders and criminals. We might be so bold as to call it “war-torn.” Second, through no fault of his own, the man is attacked. Apparently he had to travel through the area, and even though he seems perfectly ambulatory, he is overtaken by a larger force. He’s been outnumbered, he’s been victimized, and now he’s lost everything. They’ve robbed him and taken all that he has.
Along comes a Priest and a Levite. Now in most Jewish stories, these would be the good guys. They both serve in the Temple. They both worship Yahweh for a living. If anyone is going to help, it’s these guys. But they don’t. They pass on the other side. And it’s important to remember that they had perfectly legitimate, even reasonable excuses for doing so. Jesus said that the thieves left the man half-dead (ESV). That presents two problems for these professional worshippers. For one, touching a dead body would leave them ritually unclean. If the man is already dead when they go to check on him, then they’ve rendered themselves unable to serve in the Temple. Likewise if he dies while in their care. Practically speaking, they are making the practical, prudent choice to leave the man alone. But neither practicality nor prudence make them the hero of the story. That moniker falls to the least likely candidate, the Samaritan.
Now if the Priest and the Levite were the typical good guys in a Jewish story, then the Samaritan was the typical bad guy. The Samaritans were a group of mixed-race Jews who had rebelled against the rightful king, been defeated gentile invaders, and then intermarried with those invaders. To make matters worse, they had adopted many of the idolatrous practices of their gentile invaders and mixed them into the worship of Yahweh. This was their worst sin by far, and for it, the Jews hated them. One writer says that the Jews thought the Samaritans were “heretics and half-breeds.” There is no way that the Samaritan was going to be the hero of this story. And yet…
Jesus has a way of turning things on their head. He has a way of making us see the world in a different light, His light. Jesus said the Samaritan was this man’s true neighbor. The Samaritan is the hero, and he became the hero because he never asked these nine questions…
- Aren’t there Samaritans back home that could use my help? Shouldn’t they come first?
- I don’t know anything about this man. What if he wants to do me harm?
- Circumstances being what they are between our two peoples, is it really wise for me to help him?
- Some of the Israelites are bad men. What if this man is one of them?
- How much is this going to cost me? Couldn’t that money be spent better elsewhere?
- Shouldn’t some of the other travelers on this road share the cost of helping the injured man?
- Is it really in the best interest of my people/nation to help this man?
- What if the wounded traveler doesn’t fit in at the inn? What if he causes a disruption?
- This man looks like he was perfectly healthy before he was attacked. Why didn’t he stand up for himself?
- Maybe I should ask if he worships the same God I do before I agree to help him?
Again, I understand that the refugee crisis is incredibly complex, and I don’t suggest we should throw open the borders to any and all without asking questions, checking into backgrounds, and making sure we’re not bringing danger upon our own heads. But I don’t think we get to call ourselves pro-life, I don’t think we get to call ourselves people of faith, most importantly, I don’t think we get to call ourselves followers of Christ, if we’re unwilling to be obedient to His commands and protect those who need protection, welcome to sojourner, and love our refugee neighbors.