In Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan, a Jewish man is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, and it is a Samaritan—a man he wouldn’t normally associate with, someone from the other side of the tracks—who stops, cares for him, and pays for his recovery.
“Who was this man’s neighbor?” Jesus asks. His point is clear: If we are supposed to love our neighbors, often the “neighbors” we’re called to love are the people most different from ourselves.
This isn’t just a story about overcoming racism. The issues between the Jews and the Samaritans were as much theological and philosophical as cultural. For us to understand the story today, we need to replace the Samaritan with the people who most frustrate and anger us: Republicans. Democrats. Fundamentalists. Gays. Christians. Muslims. Atheists. Whoever you don’t like or don’t understand, that’s the Samaritan for you.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’re the Samaritan, and the person you don’t like is the one lying on the side of the road, needing your compassion but expecting you to just walk on by.
We live in a world where people look out for themselves, their interests, and the people they know well—and expect us to do the same. It’s a world where nations broker deals based on self-interest and politicians hold entire governments hostage because they refuse to give in and let “the other side” score a political point.
It’s a world of suspicion and hostility: If you’re lying on the side of the road, it’s your own fault you’re there. Or maybe you’re just trying to trap me. Either way, I certainly can’t be bothered to stop and check on you, much less use my own resources to help you out. After all, you’re the other. You can’t be trusted. You deserve what you get. I have my own circle to worry about.
Jesus calls us to a better way of living. Jesus says that the people we have the least in common with are our neighbors. We are called to love them. To care for them. To seek to understand them. To treat them with grace and compassion. And yes, that includes the folks on the other side of the political aisle from you. Especially them.
This doesn’t mean we act foolishly, of course. Jesus told his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” But it means that when the world tells us to solve problems by demonizing our opponents and overcoming them with our power, Jesus tells us “those people” are still our neighbors. They have needs, wants, fears, and hurts, too. Dehumanizing them is damaging to our own souls.
[Gifs from this scene in Searching for Bobby Fischer]
A culture-war mentality isn’t in anyone’s best interest, but it’s infected American discourse and politics in a major way. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of seeing our politicians getting more and more polarized, demonizing one another and refusing to see things through each others’ eyes or make compromises—even as they know that people all over the country are suffering from their inaction.
Every time these stories pop up, I find myself thinking about the Good Samaritan. And I find myself thinking, I wish those politicians who trumpet their Christian faith so loudly would show a little more willingness to live out the principles Jesus taught and modeled.
It’s not just good religion. It also makes the world a better place.