The Good Samaritan and Exclusion...

In starting this series about a Luke 10 Theology I want to lay out what I understand to be one of the primary theological implications of the second story in this text, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As a child I was taught that this story had something to do with helping others who were in need. The connections about why the first two people passed by completely escaped me. Later as I grew older I began to learn about the tension between Samaritans and Jews (although it was a sanitized Sunday School version). I certainly never heard about the ways in which they would seek to dishonor and make unclean each other's Temple or about John Hyrcanus who a littl over a hundred years earlier had raised the temple of the Samaritans to the ground. Hatred might not have been too strong a word.

But perhaps a more helpful framework for thinking about the relationship of Jews and Samartians both culturally and in this story comes from Miroslav Volf's award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Explanation of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. (Christianity Today lists this book as one of the 100 most significant books of the last century, and I agree.)

The way in which Volf helps us to think about this story and some of the more profound implications is through his categories of "exclusion". Here is a brief summary of the different ways in which individuals, institutions, and cultures organize and practice "exclusion".

Exclusion as Elimination
This is the kind of exclusion that can only be solidified by a process of extermination. Only in a denial of their humanity and a denial of their right to live can your ideal, agenda, or culture be held up as superior. One could point to the genocide in Rwanda for a horrific example of exclusion as elimination.

Exclusion by Assimilation
This is the more backhanded expression of "exclusion as elimination". This still denies the humanity and culture of the "other" but does not go as far as to take their lives if they "become like us". Interestingly I think there is some important space created by this category for the church to think about issues related to the role of the church and the issue of immigration.

Exclusion as Domination
This form of exclusion seeks to keep people "in their place". It has both obvious expressions (like the Caste system in India or Apartheid in South Africa), and expressions which are much more subtle and socially acceptable (like economic disparity along racial and gender divisions in the US). This form of exclusion functions to help those on "top" either maintain or grow in their position, power, wealth, etc. at the expense of those below. The poor get poorer while the rich get richer.

Exclusion as Abandonment
This is a form of exclusion that is especially prevalent in the way that the First World relates to those in the Third World, and the way that those in suburbs relate to the inner-city communities. (Some might refer to this as "white flight.") Volf summarizes this form of exclusion like this:

Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we simply cross to the other side and pass by, miniding our own business (Luke 10:31). If others neither have goods we want nor can perform services we need, we make sure that they are at a safe distance and close ourselves off from them so that their emaciated and tortured bodies can make no inordinate claims on us. (Exclusion and Embrace, 75.)

Exclusion by Language and Cognition (a.k.a. "Symbolic Exclusion")
This form of exclusion seeks to seperate from a person, group, or institution through disparaging language and thought that dehumanizes or demoralizes the "other". This form of exclusion is so prevalent that it is difficult to describe the breadth of this practice of exclusion. Here are a couple of examples ranging in "severity":

  • The Jews are an inferior race who threaten the creation of a pure race in Nazi Germany. (The list of names, terms, and propoganda used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews in this situation is both too long and too offensive to list here.)
  • To the girl who dresses more immodestly or provocatively than we deem appropriate (a highly subjective criteria by the way!) we might use terms such as "slutty" or speak in such a way to give the impression that this individual must be sexually active and promiscuous.
  • To people who have different political frameworks we use different oppositional terms (defining ourselves against someone/something else). There are too many here to name like "liberal", "God-hater", "fundamentalist", etc.
  • To those who are theologically "other" we use a whole host of disparaging terms that malign both their understandings of Scripture (they are "ignorant", "rebellious", "brainwashed") or their character ("they don't respect the authority of God's Word", etc.). This is common even though it is something that the Bible explicitly forbids.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6, NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:10-12, NIV)

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. ...  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 5:21-22; 7:1-5, NIV)

We have heard from Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus.

CAN WE ALL AGREE THAT THIS IS A UNIVERSAL PROHIBITION?????

Volf concludes this section by speaking about a more sinister (and for our purposes more important) category for exclusion: Indifference.

Strangely enough, the havoc wreaked by indifference may even be greater than that brought by felt, lived, practiced hatred. ... Especially within a large-scale setting, where the other lives at a distance, indifference can be sustained over time, especially in contemporary societies. A "system"--a political, economic, or cultural [or religious!] system-- insinuates itself between myself and the other. If the other is excluded, it is the system that is doing the excluding, a system in which I participate because I must survive and against which I do not rebel because it cannot be changed. I turn my eyes away... I go about my own business. Numbed by the apparent ineluctability of exclusion taking place outside of my will though with my collaboration, I start to view horror and my implication in it as normalcy. I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half-dead; I can pass--I must pass--by each without much concern. The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of the fulfillment. ... We exclude also because we are uncomfortable with anything that blurs accepted boundaries, disturbs our identities, and disarranges our symbolic cultural maps. (Exclusion and Embrace, 77, 78)

So what does this have to do with Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

What I want to unpack in my next post is how this framework of "exclusion" helps us to understand the ways in which we have wrongly practiced various forms of "exclusion" in relationship to people who are theologically "other" both throughout church history (think of the Inquisition) and in our present experience (the polarizing of Churches of Christ in relation to other Christian traditions).

So I leave you with a couple of questions to consider before I take this deeper with the next post:

(1) What forms of "exclusion" have you seen or experienced in relationship to someone who is theologically "other" (a.k.a. "different") than you?

(2) How might Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan give us a framework for re-envisioning this relationship?
This story is after all about what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27-29)!

(3) At what point does someone become "theologically other"?
(This I think is the most profound and shaping question for this entire discussion, and the very question which this parable helps us to get a more theologically robust answer for.)