‘Go Thou and Do Likewise’

If Jesus’ words “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are His best-known directive, His best-known story may well be the story of the Good Samaritan. That parable has inspired painting, sculpture, poetry, and film. The colloquial phrase “Good Samaritan,” has come to mean someone who helps a stranger. The injunction to “go and do likewise” has led to the “Good Samaritan” name being applied to many hospitals, and charitable organizations like Samaritan’s Purse.

The parable appropriately begins with the proposition that true religion is to love God and one’s neighbour as much as one’s self. An expert in the law responds evasively with a question of definition: “Who is my neighbour?” Today this question still remains, veiled in inquiries like: “Isn’t poverty relative?” “Is she black enough to be indigenous?” “Aren’t the homeless there by choice?”

The great storyteller responds with a hypothetical: A Jewish traveller is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest, then a Levite (religious “layman”) come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan, in the pejorative modern language a despised “half-caste”, comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured Jew. Torah said the “stranger” should be loved, but leading interpreters of the law at that time interpreted “neighbour” as “one of us”. One eminent scholar said: “if a stranger is drowning in a pond, to rescue such will accrue Divine approval, but if he/she is a foreigner, you are under no obligation for such is not your neighbour.” In a day of conflict as to the status of asylum seekers, we should get the point! Who is our neighbour? Is it someone like us? Or is it the homeless, the young offender, the non-English speaking refugee, the Indigenous person, the battered wife?

Jesus’ audience, the Jews, in turn hated the Samaritan’s. Today the story must be recast in modern setting where some people are in equivalent social groups known to not interact comfortably with society. The identification of “anyone” and “everyone” as a neighbour opens wide the door of loving action. By leaving aside the identity of the wounded man and by portraying the Samaritan traveller as one who performs the law of love, Jesus put the definition of neighbour on its head. Neighbourly love was anchored in care for one who is outcast.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its danger and  difficulty, and was known as the “Way of Blood” because “of the blood which was often shed there by robbers. In Martin Luther King’s full speech, on the day before his death, he spoke of this story. He said in part:

It’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible…that he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, and the first question that the Levite asked was, If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? King continues: But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

Henry Lawson, our eminent socialist, agnostic, penned a poem, “The Good Samaritan,” which is part of our Australian tradition of care for neighbour. We cannot claim to love our neighbours if we do not practically respond to their needs:

And that gaunt, Good Samaritan
is with us here to day;
He passes through the city streets
unnoticed and unknown,
He helps the sinner that he meets —
His sorrows are his own.
He shares his tucker on the track
when things are at their worst
He saw a stranger left by thieves,
Sore hurt and like to die—
He also saw (my heart believes),
the others pass him by.

We must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will no longer be beaten and robbed by the thieves of social rejection, greed and poverty on life’s highway. It has become increasingly evident that welfare is under-financed. Thus supply is unable to keep up with the increasing incidence of homelessness, mental illness and widening gap between the rich and the poor. There is a loss of meaning in a land of abundance.

Thus true compassion must be more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. True compassion comes to see that a society that produces beggars needs restructuring.

For this reason Jesus was in much conflict with the leaders of His day. Words got Him into trouble. His acts of compassion and healing were authenticating “signs” of the validity of His mission and message. If we are to “do likewise”, we must balance words of prophetic whistle blowing, words of hope and transformation to the “haves” and the “have-nots”, with acts of care and social relief. Nobody vilifies the benefactor. Jesus was not crucified for healing the sick, but for challenging the society in which He lived!

Conspicuous philanthropy creates good reputation. But challenging the status quo, or calling society to repentance both corporately and personally is what changes the world. Without words we would never have heard the story of the Good Samaritan. Without the “Sermon on the Mount” much of the value system of Western Society would not have evolved. Without Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” the world would never have been so awakened to the evil of segregation from America to South Africa. But without action, the words would have lacked authenticity.

It is for this reason we urgently plead with you, our caring friends to assist us as a Movement that proclaims the Word, lifts up the fallen and cares for the abandoned on our social roadways. It is for this reason we urge folk to support both the welfare through Concern Australia and the ministries of the Word. Give the Samaritans a voice, and give the Samaritans the resources for action to authenticate the care for those most in need.