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September 5, 2005

Today’s Lesson (1)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:10 PM * 37 comments

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said unto him, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”

And he answering said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

And he said unto him, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.’

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He that shewed mercy on him.”

Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”

(Luke 10:25-37)

Comments on Today's Lesson (1):
#1 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:52 PM:

"Whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers,
That you do unto me..."

Sunday School Song from the '60s-'70s

(Probably not sung in many churches these days...)

#2 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:17 PM:

Laurie: We still sing it. Matthew 25 (KJV): "Inansmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Oh, yes. And, he goes on to say, the reverse is also true: when you fail to succor the least among you, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned, the powerless, you fail your God. Pretty clear, I always thought. No excuses -- just repentance, and along with repentance, figuring out how to fix it.

#3 ::: Alex Merz ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:50 PM:

What is it with you people? The words of Christ mean what Pat Robertson says they mean, no more and no less. Didn't you get the memo?

#4 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:52 PM:

I took a Gospel course at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley last summer, and the teacher talked about cultural differences in how listeners interpret the parables. The key question is which character in the story stands in for us; with whom do we identify? Americans listening to the story of the Good Samaritan, the teacher said, overwhelming identify with the Samaritan himself, and the lesson becomes the importance of offering help. But in Africa and other developing parts of the world, listeners tend to identify with the person who's been robbed and beaten, who needs the help: and for those listeners, the point of the story is that it's important to accept help even when it comes from seemingly unsavory quarters (Samaritans were virtual untouchables, remember).

Post-Katrina, both sides of that divide are very densely populated. Amid all the outcries about help not offered quickly enough or not offered by the people who should be offering it, I suspect there are plenty of stories of cultural barriers and stigmas dissolving in gratitude at help that IS being offered from unlikely quarters. "YOU're helping? But I always thought People Like You were bad people!"

The parable's as much about overcoming judgments as it is about making them, and I think that's worth remembering right now. I need to remember it, at any rate!

As for "the least of these," that parable (Matthew 25:31-46) is absolutely central to all kinds of Christian social-justice movements, and shows up all over the place. It's the lectionary Gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday of Year A -- the last Sunday before Advent -- which means that lectionary churches hear it in full at least every three years. And it's not just beloved by the Christian Left, either; I've heard conservative Mormons quoting it when explaining why they want their children to help out with homeless-outreach ministries.

On another note: Jim, I absolutely loved the Folksong post. It made me laugh out loud, and I really needed that! (My father lives on the Gulf Coast and is okay, but it's been a tense week.) So thank you!

#5 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:03 AM:

Susan:
Thank you for your post. You remind me again that while it is entirely appropriate for me to judge competency or stupidity, it is not so easy to guess what is in the heart -- and not my business to do so. Michael Brown may be a caring human being, I don't know. Not my business to judge him. On the other hand, he is an utterly incompetent FEMA administartor and should be fired. That is my business.

I too loved the Folksong post.

#6 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:12 AM:

Lizzie,

You're welcome. (Thank you for yours!) Yes, I need to remember that too. And I also need to remember -- and this is very unfashionable right now, because it sounds too much like W talking about silver linings etc. -- to faithfully and stubbornly believe in, and look for signs of, resurrection.

Which, you know, is the kind of thing that makes non-Christians roll their eyes (and I totally get that, having been non-Christian myself for most of my life). But whenever I remember to do it, I find signs of hope, somehow or other. Go figure!

Susan

#7 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:16 AM:

Pirkei Avot
1:14
"He [Hillel] would also say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

What are these people, indeed?

#8 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:58 AM:

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that kinda said it all for me:

God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts

By their fruits ye shall know them.

#9 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:18 AM:

Which, you know, is the kind of thing that makes non-Christians roll their eyes (and I totally get that, having been non-Christian myself for most of my life).

Not this non-Christian.

Actually, apart from the whole believing in a superior entity thing, there is a wide overlap between my worldview and that of a lot of sincere Christians.

Ok, and Buddhists for that matter, apart from the reincarnation thing.

#10 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:19 AM:

One of my favorite Asimov essays was called "Lost in Non Translation" where he talked about how some bible stories' point is now lost because what the ethnic groups meant at the time is forgotten. As I recall, he suggested that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we should think of the man who was robbed, and those who passed without helping, as whites, and the Samaritan as black, to get the punch of what was being said. (The essay was also about Ruth and what it meant to be a "Moabite".)

#11 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:41 AM:

"As I recall, he suggested that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we should think of the man who was robbed, and those who passed without helping, as whites, and the Samaritan as black, to get the punch of what was being said."

About twenty years ago, I tripped over a piece of buckled pavement in downtown St. Paul and fell sprawling into the street. (Thank goodness it wasn't a busy street!) I was too dazed to get up after falling. I was a grubbily-dressed twenty-five-year-old white chick. Several cars passed by, the drivers of which looked like white people to me. The first car driven by a black person stopped and she got out to help me up and make sure I was OK.

That lady was a good person, and I am grateful to her, and I try to pay it forward. To whomever, you know? It's a lot like that exercise of seeing the Buddha inside everybody I meet today.

#12 ::: handdrummer ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:12 AM:

Anna, you might want to check out what's known here in the west as secular Taoism. Following your appropriate Path through life without needing the supernatural addition.

Check out a book called The Scholar Warrior by Deng Ming Dao. Not entirely secular, but it explains what being a Taoist in everyday life is like better than anything else I've ever read.

I've been following that Path for close to 40 years now. Works for me.

Your mileage may vary of course.

Oh my, I've just been an evangelical Taoist. Now that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one....

#13 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:57 AM:

delurking to thank Susan for her comment here, for a couple things.

And I also need to remember -- and this is very unfashionable right now, because it sounds too much like W talking about silver linings etc. -- to faithfully and stubbornly believe in, and look for signs of, resurrection.

Unpacked for me, that would work as holding fast to hope. (No long spiritual autobiography from me here, not the place. Just enough of one to say I cannot forgive certain folks for poisoning the well of hope that resurrection should be...)

Which, you know, is the kind of thing that makes non-Christians roll their eyes (and I totally get that, having been non-Christian myself for most of my life). But whenever I remember to do it, I find signs of hope, somehow or other. Go figure!

I suspect I know from where the eye-rolling comes from: a near-constant disconnect between The Message and the actions of some nominal Christians. But, even the disappointed still need their hope...

Thanks also for sharing your first comment about the cultural lenses through which the Good Samaritan tale is viewed.

Crazy(and holding tight in her personal storm)Soph

PS can readers here help me with the following? I thought for sure I'd run across the acryonym CHINO for "Christian in name only" here on this weblog. But I can't seem to get a result from the search engine... Someone with a better memory for context might recognize the post and point me to it... (An e-mail will be okay; don't forget to remove the spam thing...) Thanks in advance.

#14 ::: MM ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 05:23 AM:

This isn't relevant to your point, but there was a famous British court case in the 1930s, the snail in the ginger beer case, where the judgment takes the line, 'Who is my neighbour?' to expand the law of tort (Donoghue v. Stevenson, http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/hamlyn/donoghue.htm).

I couldn't let that pass... I think the equivalent U.S. case was pre-WWI and had to do with Buick.

#15 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 05:59 AM:

Hi, Susan, we met once years ago. I adored Flying in Place.

I was raised to be a good Congregationalist, which, in the '60s and '70s meant caring about social justice. I fell away from religion in the '70s, partially because I honestly don't believe in God, but also because the people who spent a lot of time talking about God were appalling people (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et.c.).

I am, admittedly, a judgemental bitch, but I hate to live in a society that has so much and yet would sit by and let people suffer in New Orleans.

BSD: Amen to that!

#16 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:48 AM:

Memo to the White House Bible Study:

What part of this message do you not understand?

So much about this administration makes me frustrated, angry, outraged and depressed. But the hypocrisy and cynicism of this disconnect, in combination with the real human damage that is its fruit, renders it evil.

CHINOs indeed. In spades. To the max. Kyrie eleison.

#17 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:08 AM:

What if the unsavory-appearing people who are offering help are from the government and want to take you to an emergency shelter?

#18 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:37 AM:

I thought all that bible stuff wasn't Christian anymore and that the holy ghost is the invisible hand of capitalism.

#19 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:07 AM:

CrazySoph: You're welcome, and I'm sorry the well got poisoned for you. Institutional religion has, unfortunately, done too much poisoning -- although there are still lots and lots of good, sincere, non-hypocritical people mixed in with the CHINOs. They're often harder to see, because they make less noise. (I know various folks who both complain bitterly about how noisy the Christian Right is and also complain bitterly that the Christian Left seems nonexistent. Well, no, we're here: but we're the ones who don't necessarily thump our Bibles, which means we're harder to identify. Bumper stickers help -- I've got some on my car -- but I think we need our own symbol, something like the Jesus-fish. Sometimes I look at Jesus-fish on other people's cars and wonder if I can read anything into the fact that they're facing right or left . . . .)

Laurie: Hi! Glad you liked FliP! And I'm a judgmental bitch too; anyone who knows me will tell you so. (Just ask Patrick!) But "society" isn't monolithic: lots and lots of people ARE helping, even if some of them are being prevented from doing so in infuriating ways. The rage at the lack of response from certain quarters is an indication that, in fact, large portions of society do care, very deeply.

Nancy: If the unsavory looking people are from the government and want to take you to a shelter, you have to decide if you want to go -- but being from the government doesn't mean that they're automatically evil or aren't genuinely trying to help. Look, "government" means the cops and firefighters too, all those guys who are out there busting their butts and getting traumatized because they aren't getting enough help from other branches of government. One of the horrors of this situation is that entirely too many people are on both sides of the Good Samaritan divide, both urgently offering help and desperately needing it.

And my own Good Samaritan story:

A few years ago, I locked myself out of my car in Eureka, Nevada. This is a tiny town of 400 people in the middle of nowhere. I called AAA, who told me that it would take them three hours to get there from the nearest town and that I should stay with my car. So I sat next to my car and waited.

The police drove by and did nothing, because I'd called AAA.

Small children came by and pointed at me, laughing. "That's the lady who locked herself out of her car!" (I was the most amusing thing to happen in Eureka in weeks, evidently.)

And then a very large, scary-looking man -- crude tattoos, leather vest (in the heat!), bad teeth of the sort that indicate really unhealthy drug use -- emerged from a ramshackle building behind me and said, "Honey, I'm a four-time convicted felon, and I'm sure I can help you break into that car."

He couldn't; it turns out that Ford Escorts are very difficult to break into, and even AAA had trouble when they showed up. But he tried, and when he was unsuccessful he called a locksmith friend (who didn't have the right keys), and when that didn't work, he told me that if I needed water or a phone or a bathroom, I should knock on his door.

I figure this guy was probably running a meth lab out there, but he was certainly also my best neighbor on a difficult day.

Susan

#20 ::: John S Costello ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:59 AM:

An addition to Susan's first post: and of course, Jesus meant the listener to identify with the Levite and the priest -- with shame.

#21 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:07 PM:

Susan, I think your point was just brought home to me in a way I didn't anticipate when you said, "And then a very large, scary-looking man -- crude tattoos, leather vest (in the heat!), bad teeth of the sort that indicate really unhealthy drug use." In the neighborhoods I grew up in, the people who looked like this were the ones I could trust. It was the guys in suits who scared me spitless.

#22 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:47 PM:

One to go with Susan's last post - A friend of mine lived in not so nice neighborhood in LA during college. Her spring break plan involved trying to sneak out unseen with the hopes that nobody would catch on she was gone until she got back. Instead a guy who, near as she could tell, was her corner drug dealer comes walking by just as she comes out of the house with her last load of stuff. He offered to keep an eye on her place which she expected meant try not to do too much damage when he was stealing her best stuff.

When she got back the house was 100% intact. He also mowed her lawn.

#23 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:47 PM:

In the "unsavory help" aspect, today's spanish-language newspaper reports that Castro has about 1500 trained medical personnel waiting to leave at a moment's notice for NOLA -- and that he can't get any response from the U.S. to his offer of assistance. He's been waiting for *days*.

#24 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:52 PM:

You know you have a big problem when the people you keep badmouthing volunteer to help you.
I'd take it, and be grateful.

#25 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Sigh, no redemption or resurrection for us atheists. (Insert a twinkle in the eye here.) We have to build our immortality by leaving memories of ourselves behind, so I donate time, money, blood...

Well, that's not the reason I do it. It's just because we are all in this together, and not one of us is getting out of this world alive.

#26 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:34 PM:

Susan, I realize the government isn't all bad. However, the mess in New Orleans is a considerable betrayal of trust as well as negligant homicide, and that betrayal is going to have long term side effects.

#27 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:03 PM:

I like the story you told, Jim, and I like the story this Memekiller guy tells, too: Cable News PTSD.

In fact, he's telling a story about stories, but not the sort of story you're telling:

Always these stories have a specific purpose: to shut down empathy so that we won't demand action or accountability. They are told because we are a charitable nation, and if these people aren't rapists and murders and looters, then what they are is suffering, and suffering would demand attention that wasn't given. The fact that it wasn't given would demand that someone be taken to task.
#28 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 10:17 PM:

See also:
   http://tinyurl.com/bazg3
---more folksong wisdom: "Hell is dark, Hell is deep, Hell is full of mice."

Note that in this story of Lazarus and Dives (as they came to be known popularly) there is no mention at all of justification by Grace or of not knowing Jesus as your personal savior's leading to a bad case of damnation...just cruelty to the poor and being poor, anti-respectively.

#29 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:22 AM:

Pfusand wrote:

Sigh, no redemption or resurrection for us atheists. (Insert a twinkle in the eye here.) We have to build our immortality by leaving memories of ourselves behind, so I donate time, money, blood...

Thanks for this. Something else I can use next time I have one of those "all morality must come from God/you can't be 'good' without believing in God" arguments.

#30 ::: Susan Palwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:07 PM:

Zaynep, as I read the Parable of the Nations (the "least of these" passage, which Teresa has helpfully posted in its entirety on the blog), one of the things it means is that if you feed somebody who's hungry, you're doing God's work whether you believe in God or not. Both groups in the story are really shocked by where they wind up: the people who were serving God didn't realize they were doing so, and the people who weren't thought they were.

My father's a furious atheist, but he's also profoundly generous and helps out his neighbors whenever he can. I tell him he's one of the best Christians I know!

Susan

#31 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:57 PM:

Zeynep:

Whenever I hear someone claim that morality can "only come from God," I remember an Englishman's televised contention that money just wouldn't be money without the Queen's head on it.

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:31 PM:

I just want to say that at the exact moment that I read this comment by Michael Turyn, the lyric he quotes played through my computer speakers. ("Dives and Lazarus," covered by June Tabor and the Oyster Band.) Excuse me while I check for ectoplasm.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:34 PM:

I've met atheists who were both good and moral. I must conclude that if morality only comes from God, it runs through more channels than some people are prepared to recognize.

#34 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:48 PM:

I just have to say that the existence of two posts with the same title is really mucking with my head. I was clicking links under Recent Comments going "Now it's here, now it's gone".

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:06 AM:

Wait'll we get up to three threads with the same title.

Being an atheist is no bar to being saved or seeing the resurrection.

#36 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:40 AM:

JDM: Being an atheist is no bar to being saved or seeing the resurrection.

That depends on who you ask. I've had conversations with clergy and good friends who have rather strongly informed me to the contrary. Personally, I can't believe in a God who condemns his own children for choosing the wrong denomination.

If I had to pick a religion, though, I'd pick one that taught good works over faith and dogma.

#37 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:29 PM:

If I had to pick a religion, though, I'd pick one that taught good works over faith and dogma.

That would be my choice, also. I was a little stunned to see a Boston Globe article on the Hutchinson statue (put up early last century, finally getting dedicated) which reported that her heresy was to argue that religious officials were emphasizing works at the expense of grace. (No discussion of how "grace" was to be acquired.) Any comments on the facts?

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