By Steven Norris

Many churches will read the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) this Sunday. I have no doubt that many will hear sermons about how we, like the Samaritan, should do good to all who come across our path. That’s an admirable reading, but I must admit that this parable looks very different when trying to see it through the lens of Jesus’ original audience.

Given that Jews and Samaritans despised one another, it is unlikely that they would have identified with the Samaritan (as we often do). It is also unlikely that they would have seen themselves in the priest or the Levite. That leaves only one option: the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was mugged, stripped, and left for dead.

While all his kinfolk and fellow church members passed by on the other side, he received help and compassion from his enemy. How would seeing the story from that perspective alter our reading?

At times, we may struggle to hear Jesus because we are accustomed to being the hero of the story. Do we have a hard time admitting that we can’t do it all on our own, don’t have the answers, and actually need help? It is a hard thing to admit that, despite our material wealth, we are impoverished in a wholly different way.

I know that it took a Samaritan, who came to me in the form of a communist pastor in Cuba, where people live on $35 a month, to help me see that I, too, am impoverished when it comes to my understanding of community, faith, and true dependence on God — to save me from my individualism.

Is it possible that we have been in positions of privilege for so long that we don’t even recognize our complicity in systems of oppression? Is it possible that we don’t even recognize our own racial bias or blindness because we are more comfortable maintaining the status quo?

It took a whole band of Samaritans, who came to me in the form of a group of prison inmates, to bring me face-to-face with my own racism. They reached out their hands, showed me grace and hospitality, and watered the seeds of freedom in my heart.

Is it possible that we have become so accustomed to a culture of fear (protecting what is “mine” with tougher boundaries, bigger guns, and stricter laws) that we have never taken time to notice that our hearts were shrinking as compassion and empathy dried up inside of us?

It took a Samaritan, who came to me in the form of an Arab stranger only months after the September 11th attacks, for God to get my attention. The man rescued my family while we were stranded on the side of the road and reminded me that my enemy is not against flesh and blood, but is found in the powers of darkness, fear, hate, vengeance, ignorance, apathy, and silence in the face of evil.

Is it possible, that only by looking at the parable from the perspective of the ditch — from the underside — can we truly grasp just how revolutionary, unsettling, challenging, and freeing Jesus’ message truly is?