The global Samaritan

There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers? —Luke 10:30-36, The Message (Jesus speaking)

I have often asked myself why human beings have any rights at all. I always come to the conclusion that human rights, human freedom, and human dignity, have their deepest roots somewhere outside of the perceptible world. These values make sense only in the perspective of the infinite and the eternal. …while the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of God. — Vaclav Havel, April 30, 1999

refugee_childrenThere’s been a mass-mugging in the Sudan. Bleeding victims lie groaning beside the road while the world steps gingerly around their battered bodies and hurries on its way.

The bloodshed in Darfur is much worse than any mugging. Villages burned to the ground, sometimes with the inhabitants locked in their houses. Women gang-raped. Men castrated. Children murdered in front of their parents. As many as 400,000 have been killed, and still the blood-lust burns.

It reminds me of the racist lynchings of the old South. The Arab government in Khartoum has armed a vigilante militia, the Janjaweed, which pours out its hatred on the non-Arab minorities of Darfur with impunity. What we see in the Sudan is a race war fought with automatic weapons.

All of this has happened in the bright daylight of world scrutiny. The Arab states shrug their shoulders, unwilling to criticize another Arab nation. The African Union has sent a few hundred peace-keepers, but its resources are few. The United Nations has passed ineffective resolutions.

Until recently, the United States has been exerting diplomatic pressure on Khartoum to stop the violence. In a stunning turnabout, the White House recently killed the Darfur Accountability Act, a bill making its way through Congress that would have imposed sanctions on Khartoum. Some speculate that in return for cooperation in the war on terror, the Bush administration has agreed to turn its back on the slaughter.

Tom Malinowski, a former Clinton administration official and now the Washington Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, sees a parallel to our tepid response to Bosnian “ethnic cleansing”:

In 1993 and 1994, the United States could point to dozens of good things it had done about Bosnia: imposing sanctions, brokering peace talks, supporting U.N. peacekeepers and providing humanitarian aid. But America’s commitment to end genocide was hollow, because it was not, at that point, backed by political and military muscle. The same is true in Darfur today. —Tom Malinowski, Repeating Clinton’s Mistakes: U.S. Response to the Crisis in Darfur

Darfur is a human tragedy and a human rights debacle. But why should it concern us?

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he was answering a question about the limits of moral responsibility: Who is my neighbor?

Vinoth Ramachandra, in a Berkeley lecture called “Western Myths About Pluralism” for the Veritas Forum, draws a sharp contrast between the way Christians answer that question and the answers given by other faiths.

Ramachandra notes that the Christian view of universal human rights arises from the revealed notion of imago dei. Because each of us has been created in the image of God, every human being has intrinsic worth.

When we stand before another person, however destitute or disabled, diseased or degraded, we stand before something which is the vehicle of the divine, something which is a Thou and not an It, to use Martin Buber’s phraseology. … The death of God does not lead to the glorification of man, but rather it takes from men and women any claim they may have to be treated with reverence by their fellows. —Vinoth Ramachandra

By way of contrast, Hinduism views suffering and injustice through the lens of Karma. We reap what we sow. If a person has difficulty in life, it is likely his own fault. In the Indian caste system, members of the lower castes are not seen as having any fundamental human rights at all.

For many years the entire nursing profession in India was filled with Indian Christians as other communities regarded nursing as menial work, fit only for uneducated girls and widows. One historian estimates that as late as the beginning of the Second World War, 90% of all the nurses in India, male and female, were Christians, and that is in a population where less than 3% are Christian. And about 80% of these had been trained in Christian missionary hospitals. —Vinoth Ramachandra

In the Islamic world, women and children are viewed as servants. Non-Muslims receive even harsher treatment because they are not part of Allah’s chosen.

Christianity is decidedly different because of the incarnation of Christ.

In his very nature he was God. But he did not think that being equal with God was something he should hold on to. Instead, he made himself nothing. He took on the very nature of a servant. He was made in human form. He appeared as a man. —Philippians 2:6,7, New International Reader’s Version

Jesus Christ, the Holy God, demonstrated the intrinsic value of human life by becoming a human being himself, by living among us, by suffering the pains of the most humble of men. He was poor, and in his poverty he reached out to the destitute, the ill, the rejected, embracing them all.

The stranger on the road from Jerusalem was no one to the Samaritan, but look at the Samaritan’s actions. He stopped, interrupted his travel plans, and focused himself on the needs of this injured stranger. He cared for the man. He paid his own money to put him in a place of safety and comfort where he could heal. He saw to it that he would be clothed and fed. He made a commitment to follow up later on in his journey.

Jesus ends his illustration with a command: “You go and do the same things.”

In every corner of the world Christian missions, Christian humanitarian relief, Christian hospitals and medical services have brought the practical love of Christ to the suffering. Christians are global Samaritans, and places like Darfur make it perfectly clear that no other group is ready to step into the breach.

This means supporting both humanitarian relief and political action: we must pressure our governments to act forcefully, and soon.

[Christians possess a moral power] that emerges out of a freedom that men and women have experienced in Jesus Christ, a freedom that Jesus himself defined as life in all its fullness. A life which conquers death, but which empowers people who receive it to fight lies and tyranny and injustice and oppression in the here and the now. The Polish poet Ceslav Milos has said that the modern opium of the people is not religion, but the very opposite: the belief in ultimate nothingness. He wrote: “It is a belief in nothingness after death, the huge solace of thinking that for all our betrayals, our greed, our cowardice and our murders, that we are not going to be judged.” —Vinoth Ramachandra

The Lord Jesus walked among the poor, the suffering, the marginalized people of the world and treated them with dignity and love. If we call ourselves Christians, we must go and do the same.

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  1. “Some speculate that in return for cooperation in the war on terror, the Bush administration has agreed to turn its back on the slaughter.”

    Or does the president have another strategy up his sleeve. I don’t know. I can hope, though.

  2. Thank you. This is a very excellent post connecting Jesus’ teaching with reality in 2005.

  3. I am always so glad when you post. They are few; but I can tell that they are ‘incubating.’

  4. That was a really great post, I appreciate how you show the reality of what Jesus said and how people are emulating his approach with mercy, kindness and hope.

    Let’s all hope Bush has a better reason for embarking on the dark path for Darfur he has chosen, but I doubt it at this point.

  5. Samuel Suantak says

    am speechless. dunno what to type or say to evangelical’s most potent symbol (prez bush) doing nothing at all @dafur genocide. no wonder ppl continue to have misgivings, say a caricaturized image [about us evangelical christians] and its more pronounced if one moves out of the US, which in my case is Delhi India.

  6. Men are social animals that can be only be tamed through an inherent panacea evolving from their hearts…

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