Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the most loved stories of Christianity. It's well known that the story loses some of its edge because we don't feel the tension between Jews and Samaritans. What's not considered as often is the worthiness of the victim.

Ask most Christians, and I suspect you'd find that they have a sort of sentimentalized idea of the man who fell into the hands of robbers. He's an innocent victim, and so we have a soft spot for him. But what if he had been involved in a gang fight instead? Does that change the story?

I'm trying to get my head around the idea of grace and its relationship to the general human tendency to only want to see grace given to those who are worthy of it. I mentioned in a previous post that religious types like repentant sinners, but not sinners.

I think of the story of Jean Valjean and Monseigneur Myriel in Les Miserables as an exploration of the parable of the good Samaritan. Valjean is starving and sleeping on the street. Myriel takes him in. For many this would complete the parallel to the parable. But when Valjean steals Myriel's silverware, is caught and is returned to Myriel, Myriel covers his crime and gives him his candelesticks as well. This pushes the parable of the good Samaritan to the level of loving one's enemies and repaying good for evil. It shows, more than Walter Wink's nonsense about putting people in an awkward position, what it means to go the extra mile.

So trying to put this into my own life, suppose I'm riding my bike down the street and I come across a car pulled off to the side of the road. The driver yells a request for help. It's nothing extraordinary to stop and help him. It's the remnant of chivalry in our society that makes us want to help those in trouble. But now suppose that I discover that he's drunk and the reason he needs help is that he ran into a curb and blew out a tire. Do I still help him? Or do I call the police and report him for drunk driving? What does grace look like in this scenario? What would Jesus do?


Pastor Eric said...

Great post -- really makes one think.

I have two responses to this:
(1) "What would Jesus do?" That is a tough question to answer. Throughout scripture Jesus surprises people so there is no reason to believe that Jesus would not surprise us here no matter how much we think we have Jesus figured out.

(2) In the case of the drunk driver, maybe showing grace means reporting him and getting him off the road to protect himself and others. Showing grace doesn't mean we overlook sin or misdeeds. There still needs to be consequences.

(3) I guess I have three responses. Showing grace could also (in addition to reporting him) look like providing for his immediate needs as you are able.

(4) Oops...one more. In my post from June 13 titled "Expensive pants" someone commented "...if grace is deserved is it really grace". Is anyone worthy of grace? When it comes to God...we ARE NOT worthy. When we are dealing with people here on this earth is it grace if we feel they are worthy? Maybe we need a different word here.

Andy said...

Hi Eric,

I think you're right. Jesus would probably surprise us. But whatever his response, I think it's safe to say it would be relational, which is consistent with your comment about providing for his immediate needs. I can't imagine Jesus simply turning anyone over to the authorities.

I also agree that any grace-filled action has to have getting him off the road as a goal, but I'm not sure what grace has to do with consequences.

slink said...


I would think that it would be difficult to resolve this situation without the authorities becoming involved. You said that any grace-filled action has to involve getting the driver off of the road. This is quite an understatement. If you can't ensure that this person doesn't get back behind the wheel and try to drive off then chances are good that they will wind up hitting something or someone else later on down the road. I don't have the statistics in front of me but I'm sure that the number of injuries and deaths involving drunk drivers is quite high.

The idea of not turning someone like this over to the authorities may sound compassionate at first but a bit of thought would show you how disasterous this really is. I nearly lost both of my parents do a drunk driver late last year. Both mom and dad spent the better part of that day in the emergency room. They were both in pain for a couple of weeks after that and dad had to be treated for an infection that started as a result of injuries he sustained in the wreck. They were forced to junk their car and buy a new one (not an easy thing for a retired couple). The wreck also greatly aggravated an existing condition in my father and forced him to go into surgery a couple of months later. If the drunk driver in your scenario had been the guy who ran into them, and you had just helped change his tire but didn't turn him in to the police, you most certainly would NOT have shown grace towards my parents. It is situations such as this where consequences enter into the question of how we show grace to someone.

So, back to the issue of getting this person off of the road. How does one do that? If you're lucky the driver will be a happy drunk and willing to turn over the keys to you. If they are aggressive, beligerent, or just unwilling to turn the keys over then there is a very good chance that they will drive off again once the tire has been changed and you have ridden off into the sunset on your bicycle. In such a case I would argue that you would be morally obligated to get the police involved; not to punish the driver but to protect (show grace) to the rest of society.

Pastor Eric said...

...but I'm not sure what grace has to do with consequences.

I need to explain myself a little more:

When a child gets into trouble responsible parents will impose some consequences on the child to curb their behavior BUT will also show grace through undeserved forgiveness. A responsible parent does not simply show TOTAL grace through simple forgiveness without consequences.

I guess what I meant is that grace and consequences (in the situation you described) need to go hand in hand (like slink mention in their comment).

I agree that whatever Jesus would do would be relational. And I too have a hard time imagining Jesus calling 911 to report this guy. But I think this just goes to show that it is hard to answer the "What would Jesus do?" question.

Andy said...

Slink, you're right that drunk driving is a very serious offense that has enormous impact on other people. That's what makes this a tough dilemma. Of course, turning the driver in is an easy decision and may even simply be the right thing to do, but it doesn't bring any grace to the offender, which is what I'm looking for.

Eric, what you've said is very sensible and practical, particularly for children, but I'm convinced that Jesus' ethical teaching (and I'm not even sure ethical is the proper word here) assume that adults are capable of responding to something other than punishment.

Suppose in my example that the person on the bike changes the tire and drives the drunk man home. Is this grace or is it simply a scaled down version of helping a murderer clean up the scene of a crime? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure it would be a violation of the law, but it involves more personal interaction. And it has the Gospel hallmark of being something other than what the offender would have expected, and maybe, just maybe, it would make a bigger difference than a stiff fine and/or suspended driver's license.

In Crime and Punishment Sonia, the Christ-figure, brings about the redemption of Raskolnikov simply by staying with him and continuing to offer unconditional love, even going to Siberia with him. But maybe this is too idealized.

David said...

I tend to agree with Eric concerning the question “what would Jesus Do?” I don’t like that question at all because in every instance, Jesus’ actions would most likely be other than our own.

I can’t imagine myself being non-judgmental and fully compassionate if I came upon such a driver who has been drinking, and is now in need of my help. My own self righteousness would get in the way of doing what Jesus would do. I feel that I would offer assistance in changing the tire, only after I called the police and took the man’s keys away from him.

I am sure that Jesus would do other, but even if Jesus took the same actions, his motivation would be out of compassion and love. My motivation would be one of “shame on you” and I would convict this person according to my own ideals.

Having said all that, I guess I would be in need of as much grace as our drunk driver. God help me!

Great post Andy.

Pastor Eric said...

"...but I'm convinced that Jesus' ethical teaching (and I'm not even sure ethical is the proper word here) assume that adults are capable of responding to something other than punishment."

I partly agree with you, but some adults need a good kick in the butt to get the point. And maybe helping the guy out and bringing him home will make a difference, but what if it doesn't? What if he gets in his car again and this time kills someone. I see your point but I see helping this drunk driver a little differently. Sometimes tough "love" (if that is even the right word) is the way to go. And like David said, our motivations and feeling would be different from Jesus.

Thanks for the conversation.
P.S. Sorry I am so late in responding...I was gone all weekend.

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