From time to time we hear about “good Samaritans,” individuals performing unusual acts of kindness – assisting a motorist with a problem on the highway, rescuing someone from a burning building, donating an anonymous gift to someone in need.
But in our increasingly secularized society, fewer people know where the good Samaritan concept began. Spoiler alert: It’s from the Bible.
Luke 10:25-37 tells about Jesus’ encounter with religious leaders that challenged Him. One leader, “an expert in the law,” cited the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the story of the good Samaritan.
In the account, robbers had beaten a man on the highway between Jerusalem and Jericho. Two Jewish leaders of high standing – a priest and a Levite – saw the injured man, but instead of stopping to help, moved to the other side of the road and continued on their way.
It was a Samaritan – a man from Samaria – who not only stopped to assist the injured person and tend to his wounds, but also found a place where he could stay and recover. Hence, the good Samaritan.
But there’s an element to this story many people don’t grasp: At least in one respect, it’s about racism. In those days there was intense animosity between Jews and Samaritans on ethnic, cultural and religious grounds. The Samaritans, whose origins traced to the same Jewish lineage, had intermarried with Gentiles to create a mixed race, greatly despised by the Jews.
So when Jesus noted two of the Jewish elite had taken “the high road” rather than get involved in a victim’s plight, and instead it was a hated Samaritan who performed the act of compassion, it must have stung His confronters.
Had Jesus told this parable in modern terms, it might have been a black man that stopped to assist a wounded Ku Klux Klan member. Talk about turning prejudice upside-down.
Some years ago I was meeting with a young African-American man in a Bible study and he asked, “Bob, if Jesus were to appear and stand in front of me, would He see a black man?” What a great question!
Thankfully, I had recently been doing some reading related to this subject, so we looked at Galatians 3:28, which states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As the apostle Paul pointed out, God does not distinguish according to race, ethnicity, gender or social standing.
I also related to my friend what the Old Testament says about how God does see people: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
In the gospel of John, Jesus demonstrated His opposition to the racism of His day in another way. He and the disciples were passing through Samaria, and Jesus defied cultural norms by talking to a Samaritan woman – the “woman at the well” – and asking her for a cup of water. In fact, the woman expressed her own astonishment. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9).
This encounter might not seem like a big deal today, but in Jesus’ day – both in terms of race and gender – it was unprecedented.
We find ourselves in an environment more racially charged than it’s been in years, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Prejudice means to pre-judge, usually according to external factors: skin color, race, gender, tall or short, slender or stocky. But that’s not how God sees people. He looks at the heart – the persons we are on the inside.
As followers of Christ – female or male, white, black, Asian, Hispanic or whatever – we need to ask the Lord for His discernment so that we no longer “look at the outward appearance” but as He did, “look at the heart.”
Racism can cut both ways: Prejudice isn’t just white toward black, Latino, Asian, or Middle Eastern. Anyone can pre-judge another, ascribing motivations and making assumptions based solely on the other person’s complexion or external “look.” We must seek to understand not only the hearts of the people we encounter, but our own hearts as well. Who are we pre-judging – and why?
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.