The story of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke Chapter 10 verses 25-37.
You are all probably very familiar with this story and know there was enmity between the Samaritans and other clans in the area and the shocking thing about this story was that it was the Samaritan, the hated one, who took the trouble to assist someone outside his own clan.
This got me thinking about strangers – who we perceive to be strangers vs. our neighbors or our friends. Once when my daughter was about three or four years old, her older brother was at a birthday party at a bowling alley that also had a restaurant/bar area. When it was time for the party to be over, I took her with me to pick up my son, but, when we got there we found out the party had run a little late, and they were just starting to have cake and ice cream. So I sat with the other parents who were waiting for their kids and my daughter was running around the room like a typical three or four year old.
At one point, I looked up and saw her talking to a man that I didn’t recognize and didn’t know. Nor did I know if he was even part of the party or just there to hang out at the bar and restaurant. So my parental red flag is flying and I called my daughter over, and asked her “do you know that man?”. “no” she says. So, I think ah hah – teaching moment – and I give her the talk about strangers. So if you don’t know him, and you’ve never met him before, then he’s a stranger to you and you shouldn’t talk to him. “okay” she says and runs off. I feel I’ve done my parental duty, I’ve protected my child – right?
Well, not two seconds later, I look up and she’s talking to that same man again, after I just told her not to. So this time, I get up and go over to them, and as I approach, I hear my daughter say “tell me your name, then you won’t be a stranger, and I can talk to you.” Well, it didn’t make me feel like a very effective parent? But what I didn’t understand was that she was too young to get the concept of “stranger.” It was meaningless to her – she had never met anyone she considered a stranger. And perhaps it is unfortunate that as we grow older, that changes and more and more people, who once may not have been, become strangers to us.
The word stranger, in and of itself, if you think about it, contains within it an expression of our judgment or wariness of those whom we might perceive as different from ourselves – so for example – if you have a different culture with different customs, foods, clothing, habits, you name it – you are “strange-er.” What is in a word? it is like maya angelou said “words are things, I’m convinced. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally, into you,” “we must be careful about the words we use.”
Well, I’m thinking stranger must be a pretty powerful word – for an extremely powerful concept. Some people, even some who consider themselves Christian – think that it’s okay to scream and spew words of hatred at children from Central and South America because they are seeking asylum in our country. What might they say instead, what words might they use instead, if these children were seen, not as strangers, but as our neighbors, which in fact they are. Or even better as friends? If we could see them as something other than strangers, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so threatened by them. Because feeling fear or feeling threatened, however irrational, is the only thing I can imagine, that would allow anyone to feel justified in treating children this way. And I feel ashamed, ashamed for my country’s response. We must do better than this. Can you imagine the terror of a child, far from home, desperate, tired, hungry, scared who finally reaches the us border and is greeted by angry mobs of people, some of them actually armed with guns, screaming and shouting angrily at them? and while they may not understand the language, or the specific words, the import is clear. You are not welcome. You are stranger.
We need to re-define our role and become a country that actually acts as the good Samaritan. And the good Samaritan isn’t the only guidance that the bible provides on how to treat a “stranger” in our midst. Exodus Chapter 22 Verse 21 says “you shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me I will surely heed their cry.” Or Leviticus 19: 34 “the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you: you shall love the alien as yourself.”
Really? there are no strangers here. Tell me your name, then you will not be a stranger and I will speak with you.
I wanted to end with a poem written by my grandfather Don West – it’s titled Samaritan:
A certain man went on his way –
the son of man once said
when from the brush the robbers rose
and left him there half dead.
Then on the road a pious priest
and Levite, too, passed by.
they saw him bleeding in the dust
but left him there to die.
When next a traveler came down
he of a hated clan
his humble feet led him aside
to tend the beaten man.
Into the wounds he poured his cures
of wine and oil and such
but o, the greatest healing was
that kindly human touch…!
Lord as we go on our way, we are grateful that none are strangers to you. We thank you for the care and attention you show each and everyone of us and ask that you help us show each other that same kindness. Because, in the end, it really is, all that matters.