What do the story of the Good Samaritan and Restitution have to do with each other?
René August explains how the story of the “Good Samaritan” is so richly applicable to how we think of restitution and, in far wider and deeper ways, how we think of ourselves as disciples of Jesus, whatever our background in South Africa.
When we read parables, the stories only make sense when we look at whom the story was being told to, and who was with Jesus at the time. All parables are stories about the Kingdom of God. They tell us about God’s dreams for the world.
In Luke’s account of this story (Luke 10:25-37), he gives us a clue about the “why” of this story. Verses 25 and 29 are very telling. A lawyer, who is an expert in The Law, wanted to trick Jesus by asking a question about laws. The geography in which Jesus locates this story is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is the road for Priests, Levis and others who would frequent the temple for worship. (The story of John 4, the Samaritan woman, hints at the soci-political and religious dynamics within these relationships.)
The issue is that this man who is asking is an expert in the law, which means he understands the law. And the Levitical law says if you strike someone and cause them harm, it is your responsibility to make sure that they are cared for and to pay for any loss of income … and to take care of the person and pay their medical bills until they are completely restored to be able to to live again. That’s the Law. Nothing about restitution. Nothing about injustice. If you beat someone up to the point that they can’t work, you must look after their family. That law is in Leviticus (or Deuteronomy), so this expert in the law knows this. Then Jesus says, “… you’ve answered correctly” …and the man says: “BUT…I wonder who my neighbour is?” Remember: he’s the lawyer, he knows the law … he is wanting to trick Jesus. And so he asks Jesus, “So, who’s my neighbour?” and Jesus says, “There was once a man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho…”
Where’s Jericho? Remember the walls of Jericho? The Promised land. From Jerusalem: that’s where the temple is. The people of God travel on that road, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho all the time. So to find a priest on that road: no surprise. To find a Levite on that road: no surprise. These are also people who know the law. And there’s a man who has been badly beaten up, lying bleeding in the gutter. They’re not touching the person…“I might become unclean…because I’m on my way to the temple and then I must still wash and I can’t speak to people for seven days!” And the Levite: same story. There are demands on their lives and on their responsibility which makes it “impossible” for them to care at all about this guy.
Then, the Samaritan! You would spit that name if you were Jewish… use the word when you’re telling a bad story. They have no business on THIS road. (John 4) “They are half-breeds, they’ve got no religion, they’ve got no culture… no temple… who the hell cares what happens to them?”…he comes along and sees, “Oh no! A man!” and Jesus says about this Samaritan “This Samaritan is filled with compassion.” That’s what happens… God is filled with compassion. So Jesus attributes a God character to a … Samaritan, a “kwerekwere” [A derogatory word for African Foreign Nationals in South Africa, with undertones of violence]. And this unclean, unreligious “filth”, stoops down and cares for the man who was beaten up.
Then Jesus asks this lawyer: “So who is the neighbour?” He says, “The one who had compassion.”
And klaar [finished]…
That’s the answer! Who’s your neighbour? The one who is least like you, the one who is in need of your compassion … whether you were responsible or not is not an issue.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to love your neighbour as you love yourself… and you can’t walk by someone in the gutter. You can’t! It doesn’t matter why they are there; that’s not the issue. It’s the wrong question. The question that we must answer is, “How can I love my neighbour as I love myself? How can I love my neighbour in South Africa today?” There are many of my brothers and sisters lying in the gutter. And I can’t walk past them, not if I claim to love my neighbour as I love myself. That would be heretical.
And the Samaritan begs the question: Are you willing to pay the price to restore the human dignity of your brother or sister, at your expense, even if it’s not your fault? Are you willing to do that? Because that is what it’s going to take for you to demonstrate that you love your neighbour as you love yourself.
What then does this story tell us about God’s dreams for the world?
Even outside of the realities of our Apartheid history, this question is critical. In light of the increasing inequalities and growing poverties that are caused by historical injustices of greed and hatred and white privileges – because the privileges were man(It’s not just white privilege; it’s white privileges. Past and present continuous tenses need to be used) – what is our response?
God’s dream, is that we will all act like this Samaritan, but this will require that some give more and some less. To some, much has been given, and much will be required.