My friend Ric is a photographer (see here) and he posted a particular picture to my Facebook page; just plain old snap of a guy called Johnny. Johnny had come out of a fast-food restaurant and had seen a homeless guy sitting on the floor. He asked the guy if he’d eaten that day, and when the guy said no, Johnny gave him half the food he’d just bought and then went on his way.
Ric caught up with him and asked him for a picture, impressed by Johnny’s simple humanity towards another person – regardless of their circumstance, regardless of their status, regardless of whether they were ‘deserving,’ regardless of if anyone was watching. Johnny just did a good thing. He saw someone in need and did a little to meet that need.
Ric reads this here blog thing occasionally and he said to me I should do a post about it – Johnny I mean, not Ric reading! – so here it is …
I have no idea – or being honest, no real interest in – whether Johnny would identify himself as a person with any sort of faith, let alone whether or not he would claim to be a twenty-carat-gold-plated fully card-carrying member of the Christian faith. (Given the statistics, you’ve got to say that it’s highly unlikely.) What Johnny seems to have revealed with this simple act of kindness is that he’s a fully paid-up and involved member of the human race!
The well-known story of the Good Samaritan springs to mind here. The story tells us of a Samaritan showing kindness to a man who should’ve been helped by the passing priest and the passing Levite loooooong before the Samaritan showed up. The story tells us about a Samaritan showing kindness to a man who would likely have shunned him simply for being a Samaritan in the first place! The story tells us about a Samaritan showing kindness to a man simply because it’s someone in need, and not because that person is a member of the same religion, same race, same social class, same political views, same gender, same sexual orientation … just because it’s another human being!
The story of the Good Samaritan is told as an answer to a question from a religious expert who is busy trying to justify his own prejudice. The man is busy trying to catch Jesus in some sort of theological trap, trying to paint this upstart Carpenter’s son as some freewheeling heretic who’d let anyone in the club given the chance! In response Jesus goes further than that …
Jesus’ response not only praises the Samaritan – painting a social outcast as the hero of the story – but also points the finger directly at the ingrained discrimination of the questioner, and the wider cultural prejudices too!
Essentially, Jesus says to the religious folk around Him, people whose faith had historically charged them to be sympathetic to the foreigner, to the alien amongst them, that they had well and truly dropped the ball!
Jesus praising a Samaritan back then would be the equivalent of praising the behaviour of an eastern European migrant worker, or a desperate asylum seeker, or an outspoken LGBT activist, or a campaigning left-wing journalist, or a young single mother on welfare benefits … it’s simply not the done thing in polite society!
Jesus presenting the heartless response of the religiously obsessive priest and the culturally privileged Levite is an implicit criticism akin to pointing the finger at the privately educated political elite, or the wealthy idle (or is that idol?) rich, or braying talk-show hosts and ‘shock-jocks,’ or celebrity mega-church/mega-rich pastors, or at the institutional inactivity and insularity of churches and believers that should – and do – know better!
He’s like that, Jesus … He niggles at you, irritates you, gets right under your skin and forces you to see past your own narrow, blinkered view. What a pain!
The prevailing attitude that Jesus was speaking into, and the one we seem to be living in now feels to me to be self-obsessed and full of a deep paranoia about those who aren’t like ‘us’ – whoever the hell the popular media is trying to tell us who ‘us’ is supposed to be!
What Jesus does with His Samaritan story – and for me, what Johnny’s little act of humanity does – is remind us that ‘us’ only happens at all because each individual gets involved.
In the South African language Nguni Bantu, there’s the word “Ubuntu” – which has been popularised in the west via people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu; essentially this term means “human kindness” or “humanity towards others.” It’s summed up in the phrase “I am, because we are,” embodying the idea that we’re connected, and we should seek the good of ourselves and each other as a way to benefit all.
The author Michael Onyebuchi Eze writes that the point of this word “Ubuntu” is that “Humanity is a quality we owe to each other.”
What Jesus, and Johnny, and the concept of Ubuntu does, is challenge our insularity and prejudices directly … they dare us to break the confines of our respective cultures and become something a little more … well, human.
Ubuntu says that maybe, if you’re at all like me, we occasionally need the reminder of someone like Jesus, or the Samaritan, or Johnny, that we should all be a little more like that.
Jesus and the Samaritan remind me I should be a little bit more like that
Johnny reminds me that I need to be a little bit more like that!