On August 16, 1942 the Circassain villagers of Besleney, a small Muslim farming community in the Caucasus, saw 4 wagons harnessed to horses with exhausted and sick children, some even dead, roll by. The mothers of the village came from their fields and took these children, 32 of them, into their homes. The next day Germans came to the village and threatened them for they were looking for the Jewish children from Leningrad who had been evacuated. The German soldiers stayed for 152 days and no child was ever found or turned over to them. For over 100 years the Czar and Russia battled the Circassian tribes. Hundreds and thousands were murdered, slaughtered, or expelled. Only 10% remained. They preserved their traditions and moral code through what is call an “oral Torah” which includes categories like integrity, honesty, and truth.
The question is about eternal life but the answer is mercy says Jesus in replying to the lawyer’s question about how to secure a place in heaven. The answer is to allow your life, your routine, to be interrupted, to put yourself at risk for another and call that other your neighbor. The answer is to invest on behalf of those who have no claim on you other than your shared humanity and who can’t pay you back. The answer is to act, to save, to bandage and feed them; give them a warm bed; take them to the inn or into your house; treat them like they were yours neighbors, treat them the way you would want to be treated.
Several times a day a freight train known as La Bestia passes through the small Mexican town of La Patrona heading north to the United States. On top of the train are men, women, and children from Mexico and Central America hitching a ride to the border for a new life. They risk kidnapping, injury, rape, and extortion, even murder. In expectation of their need for food and water, the women of the village, Las Patronas, make small bags of rice and beans. They hand them out with bottles of water to the migrants who hang out the sides of the train with their arms open to receive.
The Church of Scotland supports the deaf community in Gaza. It helps pay for their schooling and vocational training programs which include making beautiful crafts. The Director of Atfaluna told us that as important as it is to receive hearing aids and other forms of assistance to help the deaf hear, he wants us to listen to what they have to say too, to listen to how difficult their life is living under both a siege and occupation. The deaf community in Gaza is the marginalized of the marginalized. Gazans are used to people disabled by war but not born disabled. There are stigmas to being born with a disability. There has been an increase in children born deaf lately, however, that the community and researchers are attributing to the recent wars. It appears that pregnant women and their babies in the womb are affected by the loud bombing. They want us to know this and share this with you along with smiles of thanks for our support.
What do these stories have in common besides what the writer Auron calls the “banality of compassion, kindness, and humanity?” They are stories about people reaching out or helping others in a time of need or distress. They are illustrations of today’s gospel lesson of the Good Samaritan, are they not?
The late great theologian Walter Wink says this Gospel story is a tired parable that Christians use to flagellate themselves into acts of mercy. Whole organizations are named after this righteous man too because he is the model of Christian charity. Unlike the priest and the Levite on their way to services in Jerusalem who did not stop, this hated half breed, outcast, not only stopped but tended to the wounds of the man in the ditch, gave him a ride on his donkey to an inn, and then paid for his meal and lodging. He interrupted his routine, his life, and did all he could.
I like the way Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King puts it, “He got down from his beast and decided not to be compassionate by proxy…He had the capacity to project the “I” into the “Thou”, to be concerned about his brother.” King and others have suggested that the Levite and the priest only ask, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?
This road from Jericho to Jerusalem is a dangerous road after all. It’s conducive to ambushing and in the time of Jesus it was called the “Bloody Pass.” It’s possible they worried that the robbers might still be lurking about. They worried about getting involved so they kept on walking past.
But the Good Samaritan comes by and asks, “If I do not stop to help this man what will happen to him?” This is what saves the parable from being a wet noodle into something that might actually offer us a way to see how we might act in the world, how we can truly love our neighbors.
You see this outcast knew if he had been mugged nobody would have stopped for him. He knew that there would probably be no room in the inn for him. He was able to see himself as the victim beside the road. He offered his compassion because he was able to suffer with this poor man in the ditch. It could have been him.
It could have been him. This must have been what was in the heart of a Palestinian security guard and his wife, a nurse, on their way to If tar dinner last week when they found a car over turned on the road with children screaming. They called the Red Crescent and then retrieved the children, one at a time. “I heard children’s voices inside the car screaming in Hebrew. It was heart breaking…” The couple worked together to extract the children from the wreck not knowing what had happened. “I took the boy and I hugged him. I gave him some water and my wife applied iodine and just kept telling him everything was going to be fine…it doesn’t matter to me, if it was an accident or a terror attack. It’s irrelevant. These are people, children who need help, and if I can help I will help them…I am a refugee…my family was driven out from our home and we live in a miserable refugee camp, but we are human begins first. For me, I practiced my humanity. I will always do so.”
Shortly after the Palestinian couple stopped so did a Palestinian doctor. He assisted by stopping the bleeding of the daughter with a makeshift tourniquet until the medical team arrived.
Rabbi Milki Mark’s family was ambushed by a terror attack on the road by Palestinian gunmen near his home in a nearby settlement. He was killed. His wife and two children were wounded. At the press conference Rabbi Marks’ daughter said, “God sent an Arab to help us.” His wife later told those calling for blood or counter attacks, “We know Arabs. We don’t believe in revenge.”
Is this not a retelling of the Good Samaritan story too with not one but two characters who stop along a road? However, it is not just the people being robbed or attacked we have to worry about it, is the road itself, the structures of society that make violence possible or even seen as a solution. The Jericho Road, all roads, must be transformed so that all can travel safely and live in peace.
Dr. King reminds us that, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to seeing that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Reverend Carrie Ballenger Smith from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem put it this way this morning in her facebook status update, “ Horrific acts of terror and murder committed by extremists do not erase the reality of systemic racism, violence, and state sanctified murder. Not in Israel and Palestine, and not in the U.S.A.”
I would add that our Gospel story calls us to not only “love our neighbor” but also see their lives as having as much value as our own. Black Lives Matter, yes and so do all lives. All matter-- from Paris to Baton Rouge, from Falcon Heights to Istanbul, from Brussels to Saudi Arabia, from Dallas to Hebron and Tel Aviv. Each life matters.
Rev. Traci Blackmon, Acting minister for Justice and Witness Minister for the United Church of Christ said, “We are all connected. We must mourn it all… and we must love ourselves out of this.”
One way we love ourselves out of this is by not becoming paralyzed by fear or overcome by hate or by taking revenge or executing retaliatory violence.
The whole edifice of inequality needs to be addressed both here in Israel and Palestine and throughout the world. Our Gospel story gives us some clues on how to do this but it is risky business. It requires us to change our routines, to cross the road or divisions that separate us and offer help, real practical help without a prayer of getting repaid. We do this because the other is not only our neighbor but also could be us, are us. And what we do to them we do to Him. And because this is true, it is also our call, our responsibility to build new roads so there are no beggars, no children escaping persecution, no refugees, no robbers, no murderers, or extremists.
Loren McGrail serves with the YWCA of Palestine. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.