Seminar on Ethics and Economics

Where is the Good Samaritan?

The Rev. B. P. Campbell

[In this sermon Ben explores the dark side of individualism, isolation, and fragmentation—the unnecessary consequences of economic growth—in the aftermath of the tragedies in Dallas, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, and other cities last week.  --JW]

Reference: The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)


"Now in the 21st century, as the mobility and disloyalty of money take over, we are slipping into greater fragmentation.  Too many ditches.  Too many robbers.  Too little community.  Too much despair."


            Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

            Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

            Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

            This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Where is the Good Samaritan?

            It’s as if we were living right in the middle of the story which Jesus told the lawyer.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What have you been taught?”  Jesus asks.  The man gives the right answer – Love God and your neighbor.  But then he asks another question.  It is on this question, and Jesus’ answer to it, that God’s Holy Spirit builds the kingdom of God.

            “Who is my neighbor,” the man asks.

            Jesus’ answer is a story – a story that breaks the rules of religion and sets men and women free – a story whose basic commandment is to Live, to Live imaginatively, to tackle the issues that present themselves today without prescription or instruction – only the instruction to love our neighbor as ourselves.

            This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Where is the Good Samaritan?

  1. This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            Seven men had their lives stolen from them this week on our road to Jericho.  We probably didn’t even see the signs that robbery was happening.  We were intent, like the priest and Levite before us, to ignore the warning signs and to go by on the other side.

            It wasn’t, after all, happening to us.  Race is over as an American issue.  Only  a few distressed people,  and a few mistakes, keep it on the front pages.  Crazy shootings seem like an aberration.  The shootings weren’t here in metropolitan Richmond.  The school shootings were in Rhode Island.  The night club shootings were in Orlando.  And police issues – well, they’re in the inner city, not where we live.

            It all seems beyond us, out of our grasp, a reason to hunker down and find safe houses to live in.

            Seven men were shot and killed this week – eight, if you include Micah Xavier Johnson, the shooter in Dallas.  And here’s what they all had in common: none of them was shot by someone who knew him.  All the shooters – the policemen in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, and the sniper in Dallas – did not really see the person from whom they were robbing precious life itself.  They saw a stereotype of a person – a wooden fearful or despised figment of their imagination.  They saw a stranger.  And they robbed the stranger of life itself.

            We are powerless.  We walk as far away as we can.

            This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Where is the Good Samaritan?

  1. We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Not only have we failed to save one another from dying in the ditch; -- we have made it so the ditch is more and more unrecognizable, more and more inaccessible.  People die unseen.

            It is hard to have racial reconciliation, deep structural injustice, and increasing isolation at the same time.  In America, it seems, you can have diversity or you can have community – but you can’t have both.  We may have some racial integration, but we have a disintegrated society.  We have used our incredible material wealth to move farther and farther away from one another, in separate houses sprawling across the countryside; in subdivisions divided by income and race; in public schools that reflect only the children in the neighborhood. 

            We travel, but only in cars that insulate us from any undesired contact, on highways with limited access.  We use distance as walls, building a society as separated from itself as if it were a vast honeycomb of isolation cells.  In many cities, and most egregiously in this one, we even refuse to provide public transportation, guaranteeing extra isolation both to ourselves and to a significant percentage of our brothers and sisters, often less wealthy and of a different ethnicity.

            What we don’t seem to understand is that we are creating a nation of Jericho Roads – lifescripts where people become more and more isolated, unable to support one another, required by their own responsibilities to walk by on the other side without time or energy to build a common life.

            Is anyone noticing that more and more people are being shot, and that the shooters are distressed people?  What the shooters have in common is not their religion or their race – it is the craziness of their distress. In a disintegrated society, individualism acquires a toxic quality which breeds destruction – whether it is the multimillionaire who has no clue of the stewardship he has been given, or the lonely young man who sprays others with bullets before killing himself.

            There’s killing and there’s craziness in the rest of the world, to be sure.  But we need to admit that we have our own particular epidemic here in the U.S., and it’s not ISIS.  And it’s not just race – although like everything else in this unhealed, not-racially-honest society, there’s a serious racial element to it.

            It’s a nation of Jericho Roads – dark, lonely pathways stretching out far into the suburbs as well as into the inner city.   In tiny hovels and great mansions that you and I have never seen, along superhighways and dirt paths – our citizens drive or walk their individualized, often very distressing, very lonely way down into the place where they may be robbed, or may become robbers themselves.

            Their lives are stolen from them by the isolation we have so successfully built – the backside of the excellent individualism we have engendered.  The old racial ditches, partially paved over, break through the often-cosmetic repairs partially made.  Now in the 21st century, as the mobility and disloyalty of money take over, we are slipping into greater fragmentation.  Too many ditches.  Too many robbers.  Too little community.  Too much despair.

            This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Where is the Good Samaritan?

  1. Where is the Good Samaritan?

            Jesus’ picture of the Good Samaritan is one of the most liberating, creative teachings in the entire Scripture.  The teaching is multi-racial.  It is indifferent to formal religion.  Jesus gives no prescription for behavior to fit the commandment.  The Samaritan uses his head, uses his resources, is alert to the moment, is innovative and imaginative, and acts with effective kindness and mercy.  Because of his futuristic intervention, the stranger becomes a neighbor.

            Go thou and do likewise.

            We have a different situation, different resources, and it is a new day today.

But there are still two great commandments.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  The neighbor is a stranger who becomes the neighbor through your contact. 

            Much of the problem with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as it is used in preaching and Sunday School, is that we use it to justify personal charity as an antidote to systemic oppression and injustice.  What we don’t see is the incredible freedom and imagination urged by Jesus in this story.  Find where you are and act to knit the fragmented city into a community.  Do the work of making strangers into neighbors.  We need systemic change, not just personal contact. 

            What is clear is that this metropolitan city and this nation are exploding in the wrong direction, and that God is calling people to make strangers into neighbors.  Would you walk by on the other side when our community refuses to have a public transportation system?  Would you walk by on the other side when the entire state has refused to provide capital money to its city schools for 45 years?  Would you walk by on the other side when there are people in our metropolitan city who are as racially ignorant and isolated as the policemen of St. Paul and Baton Rouge and the sniper of Dallas. 

            That Good Samaritan had a donkey, and he had some money, and he knew that road, and he could lift the man from the ditch, and he knew the innkeeper.  That’s what he had.  That’s what he saw.  That’s what he did.

            All we need to do is stop ignoring the big ditches along metropolitan Richmond’s roads and the people who are falling into them – and to let our own resources take us to make strangers into neighbors.  We can do it by social action, and by personal work; by study; by conventional means and by innovation.

            In that pursuit is, Jesus said, a life that is eternal.  That is really living.  Nothing beats it. 

            We do not need to fear we are doing it wrong – no one does it right, because there isn’t any advance script.  We only need to listen, and to love, and to do our part – big or little, complicated or simple.  We can even discuss it with each other, -- do things together.  In this disintegrated society, this materialistic time, in the face of unhealed racial discrimination, we have the freedom to love, and the invitation to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

            This week, maybe this year, we’ve all been living on the Jericho Road.

            We’ve built a nation of Jericho Roads.

            Where is the Good Samaritan?

            He’s right here.  Right in this room.  This room is full of people like him and of the Spirit of the man who told us about him.                                                            AMEN.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, July 10, 2016

Ben Campbell is a longtime advocate for linking ethics to the study of economics. His wonderful book, Richmond's Unhealed History (2011), explores economic justice and injustice from the Confederate capital to the present.  He is the former founder and director of Richmond Hill, an ecumenical urban retreat for promoting racial reconciliation and spiritual development, and currently an associated clergy member at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. 


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