Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be unclean half-breeds, but Jesus upended this long-held sense of superiority and ethnic purity by defining clearly what it means to be a child of God.
This comes to my mind as white supremacists head into Charlottesville on Saturday to spew their disdain for brown people. I’m feeling like a Samaritan all of a sudden.
Well, I actually felt that way last month when two of my daughters were called a n*gger in separate incidents; and my other daughter wondered if she should leave her house on July 8th; and I was advising my son to stay away from that KKK rally; and as I watched the rally online and heard it with my own ears: “Go back to Africa.”
I was feeling that way at Walmart last week when I was too timid to speak up as another customer sought to be served ahead of me at the electronics counter. I was there first, but maybe he didn’t realize I was there first. Or maybe he was just a rude person. But with white supremacists feeling emboldened lately, I didn’t want to risk becoming the target of his ire by making a big deal about it. When his friend strolled up wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with the confederate flag and camouflage design, I was glad I had embraced Samaritan status, awful as it is to admit.
I was feeling like a Samaritan in November when I was scolded by Christian friends for defining and denouncing racism on social media. I blogged about it then to raise awareness, and because Jesus defined and denounced bigotry by defying cultural norms. Talking to the Samaritan woman at the well and asking to drink from her cup was tantamount to a white man drinking from the Colored water fountain. Choosing a Samaritan as the hero in his depiction of how to love your neighbor – while depicting religious leaders as negligent – was a huge statement about cultural identity.
Jesus was a master at this kind of disruption. Like in John 8 when he told religious leaders they weren’t God’s children. Their response?
Didn’t we say all along you were possessed by a demon?” (TLB)
Suddenly, Jesus is lumped with Samaritans. In modern terms, they called him a n*gger, a wetback, a terrorist.
One commentary puts it this way:
“The words suggest that they regarded Jesus as their national enemy… The term ‘Samaritan’ was always used by the Jews in an insulting sense.”*
All of these biblical accounts comfort me because they’re evidence that childish name calling and “identity politics” are not 21st Century inventions. For millennia, bigots have engaged in otherism by designating certain people groups as enemies of the nation.
And that brings me to 2017: In all of my adult life, and in my 34 years in the South, I have never, ever had to deal with the hateful messages, fears, and frustrations I am coping with today. The mission and mindset of the alt-right is concerning, and if you haven’t read up on their ideology and what the Charlottesville rally means to them, you need to know they view this weekend as “a turning point” in their desire “to dominate politics.”
I knew this in November, but I never expected these ideas to land within walking distance of my daughter’s house.
But as I am wont to do, I turn to Christ. Jesus didn’t bother reciting his lineage to prove he was a Jew. Instead, he emphasized his identity as Son of God whose chief aim was to bring God glory. In answering his haters he said:
“And though I have no wish to make myself great, God wants this for me and judges those who reject me.”
During this time of personal offense and national disruption, these words should sink into our souls. Christians must focus first on making Jesus great; not the country or our affinity groups. God wants this for Jesus, our Savior and our example of how to respond to racism.
For white Christians, it means growing in racial awareness and being willing to call out the bigots around you, just like Jesus did. It means realizing that your black friends, and brown neighbors, and immigrant co-workers feel pummeled on the side of the road and our souls are bleeding. Are you passing by on the other side, or are you stopping to see and salve your neighbors’ needs?
For black Christians, it means becoming more secure – not less so – in our spiritual and national identities. God made us in his image and we have the right to live in America and be first in line at Walmart. But we don’t have the right to fight flesh and blood or to use carnal weapons, including rocks and plastic bottles in counter protest. God certainly wants us to seek justice and dismantle symbols of oppression, but we’re also called to respect authority and love our enemies. God’s sun shines on them too.
Hey, I’m not saying we can’t pray for a cold, rainy, dismal downpour on Saturday to keep attendance low and scuffles to a minimum. What I am saying is what Jesus said:
If we hold to his teaching, we are really his disciples. Then we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. John 8.31-32
Free from fear.
Free from hate.
Free to love.