Who is my neighbor?

A certain man had moved to the city because he needed a better job to provide for his family. He was poor, had no car and no health insurance. But he was a good man, a Christian man, with faith that God would provide for him and protect his family.

One morning he set out on foot for a job interview. What he didn’t know is that he was walking through the worst part of town, the center of crime, drugs, prostitution. A gang of thieves fell upon him. They attacked him. They beat him, kicked him, broke his bones, robbed him. They took everything he had, little though it was, they even took his clothes, and left him naked, lying in the gutter. As they left, one of the thieves took out a gun and shot him.

Soon, a Baptist minister and his wife drove down the street and saw the man. The minister thought about helping, but he was afraid, he knew how dangerous the neighborhood was. So he said, “He should have known better than to walk through this part of town.” His wife said, “He got what he deserved. Maybe they’ll clean up this trash and improve the city!”

Across the street, an old woman and her adult daughter saw the man through their window. They had lived all their lives in this terrible place. The daughter said, “Mama, we’ve got to help that poor man, he could die!” But her mother was afraid. She said, “He’s dead already. We can’t get involved, it’s just too dangerous.”

Then a man came around the corner. He was a Moslem. A genuine Moslem. At sunset he would get on his knees and face Mecca. He quoted the Quran. He quoted Mohammed. He prayed to Allah.

The Moslem went over to the man bleeding in the street, to try to help. He tore his own clothes to make bandages, trying to stop the bleeding. He took out his cell-phone and called an ambulance. He stayed with the man, and said he wouldn’t leave him.

The ambulance arrived, but found the man had no health insurance card. The driver said they couldn’t do much for him at the hospital unless someone would pay for his care. The Moslem told him, “I will go with you, and take care of this man.”

At the hospital, the Moslem spoke with a lady who admitted patients. “Without payment,” she said, “they’ll patch him up and put him back on the street. It doesn’t look good for him.”

“I will pay for his care,” said the Moslem. Give me the forms, I will sign them.”

“Why would you do that?” asked the lady. “It’s very expensive. Why would you pay so much for a man you don’t even know?”

The Moslem replied, “Allah put this man in my path. He did that for a reason.”

Who is my neighbor?

35 responses to “Who is my neighbor?

  1. Edward Greisch

    Have heard that story too many times. It was “Samaritan,” not moslem. From Samaria?

    PS Kevin Trenberth: Where I went to college when I went there, probability and statistics for physics majors was taught by the physics department.

    As taught in the physics department, Prob&Stat differs from the math department Prob&Stat in that the laboratory mimics problems that the pioneers in physics solved while doing original research in physics. For example, one experiment involved shooting bb’s at a hidden shape and recording where the bb landed. This was to simulate the scattering problem when you fire electrons at atoms. The job was to discover the shape of the plastic target.

    • You might consider, Ed, that in fact you’ve haven’t actually heard it at all, yet.

    • “Too many times”? How so, exactly?

      And on the matter of the Samaritan, it might help if you stand. The more so if you jump, and try to catch the point that sailed over your head…

      Or see the comments by Tensor11 and Dan Andrews below.

  2. Thank you for that.

  3. Isaac Asimov, in one of his science essays in Fantasy and Science Fiction during the 60s, told a similar story (White man in Mississippi, black man helping him). The title of the piece was “Lost in Non-translation”.

    Unless one could get across the negativity of the non-translated term “Samaritan”, as it applied to the Jews during Jesus’ time, the parable doesn’t have the same impact. You just provided the impact, thank you. I may steal this, with proper attribution and a link, of course.

  4. A nice update on an old parable. Maybe this could be part of Jeb’s test of Christianity, not for the refugees but for every presidential contender who claims to be Christian.

    In one of my religious studies classes our Rabbi prof had us discuss this parable. We discussed the usual interpretations. Halfway through he asked how we would have felt if we were the injured traveller who was aided by a despised enemy. We’d all overlooked that. He said one of the lessons in the parable is one of humility. The lesson would be about swallowing pride, accepting help, and changing your mind about something you’d grown up believing.

    It would be as if Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee were attacked and then ignored by his own pastor, ignored by congregation members, but then helped by someone they despised, say a Democratic gay evolutionary biologist Muslim. :-)

    I loved the layers of meaning in the texts. Our prof said it took 10 years of training before you could learn to read all the layers of meaning and symbolism. Ancient Jews, even uneducated ones, knew much of this just by cultural osmosis. Writers would write knowing their audience would grasp, or at least know about, the depth that was hidden. Modern day Christians just read the surface and miss all the deep riches that can enhance, alter, or change the surface meaning, making it actually less important in comparison to the other interpretations.

    • “Modern day Christians just read the surface and miss all the deep riches that can enhance, alter, or change the surface meaning, making it actually less important in comparison to the other interpretations.”

      Well, some do–and a considerable number of those do so quasi-intentionally, as the doctrine of literalism amounts to a willed ignorance of those ‘layers of meaning.’

    • rabiddoomsayer

      Well said. Samaritans were not the “in group” in Jerusalem.

  5. Exactly. Well said.

  6. Thanks for posting this. You got the point of the original. Few people do. Cf the Asimov essay cited above.

  7. I’m not a Christian, but I grew up as one, and know a bit about Jesus’ teachings. And I’m constantly surprised how many people who call themselves Christians don’t understand his teachings. I’m also surprised by the lapsed Christians (usually Catholics) who can’t see any merit in any of what Jesus said. You don’t get people founding a religion in your name if you didn’t have a bit of insight.

    • I’m also surprised by the lapsed Christians (usually Catholics) who can’t see any merit in any of what Jesus said.

      They find it hard to see past the fact that they were comprehensively lied-to about the world. Yes there is plenty of merit in some Christian tenets, but the nonsense-as-foundation part makes it hard to take them seriously once you notice.

  8. The problem is that the Samaritans are now known to a large majority of people only by that parable. That they had split from mainstream Judaism and were regarded with hostility by most Judeans ~AD 30 is often lost, hence the need for the occasional refresher like that.

  9. and to be fair, most of us at different times play all three parts. Sometimes we go out of our way to help someone in need, sometimes we refuse and just walk on by, and sometimes we are helped by the kindness of others.

    A lesson for all of us. Thanks for posting.

  10. My experience with most Xtians is that they haven’t read the Bible at all. They maybe get through Genesis and part of Exodus. Nobody gets through Leviticus. Maybe they read some of Deuteronomy. They hear there are some juicy bits in the Psalms and Proverbs and read those (and are usually disappointed).

    Then they try the New Testament, but usually only get about halfway through Matthew, maybe try some of Paul’s letters and then say “Screw it!” and skip to Revelations. This is the only way you can possibly explain how they claim to be xtians but don’t condemn greed, public displays of faith, etc.

    Most Xtians claim to believe in a God of Justice. Most had better pray they are wrong.

    • snark: My experience with most Xtians is that they haven’t read the Bible at all.

      BPL: What is your experience of “most Christians?” Exhaustive polling, or sampling? How did you avoid bias?

      • I was raised in a liberal Methodist tradition. One was as likely to hear Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi quoted as St. Paul. The Bible was read in study groups, Sunday School, etc. I pretty quickly learned, however, that this was not a universal experience. The university I attended was home to an international evangelical student organization, and boy were they ignorant of the Bible. They were ignorant not just of its history and its context in Jewish society and world religion, but even of its most basic messages. Most of them relied on the predigested pablum spoonfed to them by their pastors–most of whom were either equally ignorant or mendacious.

        And then there are the smackasses in the political arena, who somehow have ignored the Bible’s message about charity and humility and instead taken away the misapprehension that the key to entering heaven is making sure you don’t put your junk in the wrong place! In short, I’ve seen zero evidence that Xtianity makes people better or more moral. Xtianity as practiced by the overwhelming majority of xtians seems to be all about cheap grace.

      • I don’t know about ‘most’ or ‘not most’–but my humble opinion is that if one thinks the Bible was intended to be understood literally, word for word, then one hasn’t read the Bible for comprehension. To reconcile the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection in a literalist fashion, for instance, is to turn the single most central and sacred episode in all the New Testament into something reminiscent of a bedroom farce, with dozens of characters busily rushing on and off stage and just barely missing each other.

        Inconceivable!–at the risk of sounding like the Sicilian from Princess Bride. I’m agnostic, but I definitely do not believe in an omnipotent God who writes that badly.

      • Doc Snow,
        Reminds me a little of the exchange between Yossarian and Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife:
        “What the hell are you getting so upset about?” he asked her bewilderedly in a tone of contrite amusement. “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

        “I don’t,” she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. “But the God I don’t believe in is a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He’s not the mean and stupid God you make Him out to be.”

      • :-)

        I feel that I can falsify that hypothesis to my satisfaction, but of course that doesn’t imply that I can falsify them all!

    • Yup, I agree – most never really read the scriptures. That said – What ever you do… ask Him for mercy, not justice! However, that is only an option for those who extend mercy…

      [Response: Reminds me of another parable … from the same guy.]

  11. The Syria problem is old. For 3,000 years surplus population from the Fertile Crescent moved into the Syrian highlands. With a drought enhanced by AGW caused in part by US emissions, and over population caused in part by US technology, Region was unstable. The US invaded Fertile Crescent and increased the flow of refugees and decreased the flow of food west into Syria.

    We are so afraid of terrorists because we already have so many shooting crimes in the US see http://www.gannett-cdn.com/GDContent/mass-killings/index.html#frequency and https://reason.com/blog/2015/08/03/mass-shootings-study for example.

    But, Syrians have a different culture. The odds of someone already in my town being a potential shooter is higher than the odds of some Syrian being a shooter. By the time refugees have been vetted by US security, the odds of a Syrian refugee being a potential shooter are negligible.

    I worry about AGW. AGW dominates risk both in impact per person, and number of people affected. Then comes mis-use of prescription drugs, auto accidents, falls in the home, disease caused by lifestyle (obesity), with guns and terrorists way down list. Since obesity caused disease drives much of our drug use, obesity is second only to AGW as a risk in the US.

  12. Thanks for this. I am amazed at the number of so called Christians (particularly in the US) who seem to use their faith to justify their climate change denial. ” God gave us the earth to do as we wish” attitude. And how those same people seem to have no concern for the poor who will suffer the most as the earth warms. They seem to feel it is ok to justify their thinking with the “God helps those who help themselves” attitude. It’s why I admire this pope so much. He seems to really understand that it is the poor who will not be alright and it is they who have contributed the least to the damage.

  13. Thanks for posting. As a Sunday School teacher, I try to get the kids to understand how Samaritans were viewed in those days. The kicker is that Luke relates this parable right after Jesus gives the Commandment to love your neighbor.

    Frederick Buechner writes:

    When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. […]

    Instead, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you.

  14. Worth to mention: Steve Jobs’ biological father was Syrian muslim. He had to be adopted because his biological mother’s father couldn’t stand a muslim in his family.

  15. Thanks for this item Tamino. It is an excellent version of the story that Jesus told, and in line with comment I have heard from others about how if the story was being told today it would be about “The Good Muslim”. And I recall some previous items you have posted about real life versions of the good muslim. Othman Abdul Hafez, a Sunni who died saving drowning Shias in Bahgdad in 2005, is not one that I am aware you wrote about one but one that sticks in my memory.

    IMHO there is a related “unlikely” hero/heroine story in another area. As an active Christian of Baptist denomination, who does regularly read and try to understand the bible, I am well aware of passages that disapprove of homosexuality. But they are not to be read in isolation. So how can I fail to be more approving of a prominent US homosexual who ends her TV show with “be kind to one another” than I am of fellow Baptists from a certain US location who seem to focus on reasons to be unkind to other people? After all “Love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins”1 Peter 4:8 (Proverbs 10:12 says almost the same)

  16. This!

  17. Many, but unfortunately not all, Christians would immediately recognize this as the Good Samaritan. Andy many churches our included ours have welcomed and resettled refugees, including a Moslem family from the Bosnian conflict.

  18. Phillip Helbig

    “As an active Christian of Baptist denomination, who does regularly read and try to understand the bible, I am well aware of passages that disapprove of homosexuality. But they are not to be read in isolation.”

    But even if they are not read in isolation, they still imply that homosexuality as a sin, and this has been used throughout the centuries, up until today in some cases, to persecute and even kill homosexuals.

    “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” There is no hope to reconcile true Christianity and enlightened society, even among “intellectuals”, if one accepts that all in the Bible, or even just the New Testament, is true. It’s even worse when much of the Baptist and other evangelical population are scientifically and otherwise rather ignorant. (I know what I’m talking about. I was born in Alabama and grew up in Texas. I used to be a Baptist in a church where the Southern Baptist Convention were considered to be communists. No joke. I moved to Europe over 32 years ago.) I honestly think that some of them misunderstood the command about not coveting thy neighbor’s ass. :-)

    • PH: thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear of your unfortunate experiences. But if I may humbly offer some advice, please be cateful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. That is an attitude which seems to me to have much in common with “cherry picking”, which is discussed here regularly. I would claim that people like Pope Francis and Katherine Hayhoe are both true Christians and indeed making a contribution to “enlightened society”. But mostly I claim that without me trying to put Jesus instruction of “love your neighbour” into practice I would not be a nice person to know…

  19. PH: There is no hope to reconcile true Christianity and enlightened society, even among “intellectuals”, if one accepts that all in the Bible, or even just the New Testament, is true.

    BPL: You are conflating “true” with “true in the plain literal sense in all passages.” Literalism as practised by US fundamentalists has never been a core feature of Christianity. And please don’t tell me the 5 Fundamentals is “True” Christianity.

  20. Tamino: The story you have appropriated comes from the New Testament, the Good Samaritan:


    In today’s version of the story, press tells us mostly about the few travelers who are beheaded by a terrorist who claims to be inspired by the Koran and is hoping to ignite a religious war that will restore lost Muslim greatness. Or about the terrorist who claims Allah set his feet on the path to Paris or the World Trade Center, so he could kill many unbelievers to achieve the same objective. Or about mindless mass-shootings by a few crazy individuals.

    In today’s world, everyone is a neighbor. And the vast majority of Muslims, Jews and Christians are not terrorists, though terrorism and mass shootings have been practiced by individuals from all religions (the KKK, ISIS and Irgun). In much of today’s world (but not first-century Palestine), we pay taxes so that a professional police force can help the victims of violence and bring those responsible to justice without our having to become personally involved. The press focuses far too much attention on the few terrorists that are out of reach of our police. Furthermore, we pay taxes to provide a safety net to citizens who are victims of all kinds of misfortunes.

    The problem isn’t that we don’t care that 30% of Syrians have fled their country or that a similar percentage of minorities in our inner cities are involved in crime. We don’t know the effective ways to help. (The departure of Syria’s most ambitious and non-violent citizens is certain to leave Syria a swamp of poverty and violence for decades.)