Tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans can be compared with today’s social upheaval
By Bob Hunt
These past several weeks, since the killing of George Floyd, our nation has been wracked with protests and social upheaval we have not seen in decades. Many have lost their lives in the civil unrest. Many have lost their livelihoods. Churches have been vandalized, their statues destroyed and buildings attacked.
When will it end? I’m not sure. The few calls for unity and dialogue notwithstanding, there are too many people in important positions who have no desire for the tensions and divisions to end, because they hope to exploit the tensions and divisions for their personal political power.
This is where we come in, and by “we” I mean the American people. We are the people who go to our jobs every day, who interact with each other every day, who invest our time, talent, and treasure in our places of worship and in our communities and in our families. We cannot take our cues from our leaders, right or left. They are too focused on themselves. It’s up to us, then, to live lives worthy of God, and to consciously treat our neighbor with the love to which God calls us.
Who is our neighbor? When Jesus was asked this question, He responded by telling the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Today, we lose much of the impact of this story because we don’t understand the context in which it was first told.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to a group of Jews living in Judea. The tensions that existed between Jews and Samaritans are not unlike those that exist in our country today. According to John McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible, “To the Jews, the Samaritans were a heretical and schismatic group of spurious worshipers of the God of Israel, who were detested even more than pagans.” When the Jews who returned from exile in Persia began rebuilding the Temple, the Samaritans at first offered to join in the construction. Having been turned away by the Jews, however, they responded by harassing the builders, attempting to delay or stop the building, and even tried to assassinate Nehemiah. The Samaritans built a competing temple on Mount Gerizim (John 4:19-24), solidifying the schism between the two groups.
Indeed, the hatred between Jew and Samaritan was so intense that Jews would not even travel through Samaria. You can imagine the eyebrows and anger raised toward Jesus when he chose to ignore this practice, even choosing to converse with a Samaritan woman!
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” proposed by a scholar of the law. This was a man steeped in the Mosaic tradition, who would have been in tune with the differences between Jew and Samaritan, and who would have regarded the Samaritans as heretics who had found disfavor with God. Even still, Jesus didn’t hesitate to make the protagonist of his story a Samaritan, even over and against a Jewish priest and a Levite. To his credit, the scholar could not deny that it was the Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed.
In order to understand the full impact of Jesus’ story, it might be necessary to make it more contemporary. The circumstances were no less controversial than were Jesus telling this story today to a group of Trump supporters where the protagonist is a Black Lives Matter activist, or were Jesus telling this story to a group of Black Lives Matter activists where the protagonist is a man in a red MAGA hat. The point is, there is no room for hate for those who hope in Jesus, even hatred of one’s enemies. “Love your enemies” is not a slogan for Jesus. If we cannot love our enemies, we are not capable of loving and following Jesus, for Jesus loved and prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross.
How radical is the love of Jesus and the mercy of God!
So, while I’m saddened and disappointed that too many of our political and social leaders have chosen to exploit the tensions in our country rather than try to heal them, I never really looked to them to deal effectively with these horrors.
The only thing that will heal these wounds is the love of Jesus lived out in the ordinary circumstances of daily living by ordinary people. It will mean acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). It will mean our forgiving those who have hurt us, and our hearts being converted to loving those we now hate.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville and is a candidate for the permanent diaconate.