Whose lives matter?

Jan 4, 2016 by

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An expert in political science asks Jesus about his support for Samaritan Lives Matter. Apparently, Jesus had told a story with a Samaritan hero and a couple of heartless religious leaders. Some say Jesus even drank water from a Samaritan floozy’s water jug. No wonder there are those who suspect he is a Samaritan (John 8:48). Come on, Jesus, why all the noise about Samaritans? We know all lives matter.



The Jewish-Samaritan animosity has deep and painful roots. Around 520 B.C., the Samaritans wanted to help rebuild the temple. They were not allowed (Ezra 4). Later, they built their own temple at Mount Gerizim. To the Jews of Jesus’ time, Samaritans are outcasts and half-breeds who hold offensive religious views.

The story of the good Samaritan pushes against ideas of cultural and ethnic superiority. When Jesus asks the lawyer listening to the story, “Who is the neighbor?”, he answers, “The one who showed him mercy.” Does he have trouble saying “the Samaritan?”

The big arms of the Jewish news channels, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, controlled much of Torah interpretation and thought. The slant of a story shapes our thinking. Cultural chatter can focus on the failings of exploited groups and away from our own shortcomings. Ethnic chatter can direct our anger toward those we see as different and away from powerbrokers benefiting from our divisions.

Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan jars current thinking. It lures listeners to see mercy from unexpected people. It tricks us to examine the boundaries surrounding neighborly love. It pushes us to rethink whose lives matter.

Too often, like the lawyer asking the question, we want our beliefs and stereotypes reinforced. We tell stories that support our views. It’s easy for those of us with hard-working European roots to tell stories of the poor lacking motivation. We tell stories of needy people who waste money on gambling. We tell stories of black-on-black crime. How have European values, white supremacy and Christian ideals become blended? How does social location shape our biblical interpretation? What happens when we start seeing the world through the eyes of those on the margins?

Black-white tensions have deep and painful roots in slavery, Jim Crow laws and the KKK. Injustice continues today in our biased prison system, in our inequitable educational structure and in our unjust economic structure. We can easily forget hidden structural violence while we busy ourselves pointing out the flaws of the marginalized who dare to protest.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus was biased in favor of those on the margins. He humanized the Samaritans and the poor.

Imagine being the victim in Jesus’ Samaritan story. As we lie on the street half dead, in need of help, would we care about our rescuer’s ethnicity, political beliefs or religious affiliation? Imagine seeing a hoodie-wearing black teenager, an Arab-looking foreigner or a Donald Trump sign-waver. They stop. They clean and bandage our wounds. Imagine the joy.

There may be logical reasons to be wary of Samaritans. Our cultural chatter can make it hard to sort out realism from bias, criminal from victim. Samaritans are not perfect, but neither are the rest of us. Not even good Mennonites. Still, we share a common humanity. Jesus nudges us to see that our neighbors include those we are tempted to exclude.

God enlivens our imaginations to find neighbors in surprising places. Samaritan lives matter. Black lives matter.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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