Greetings to everyone on a rather warm winter day! (This was written on February 15th) We just took five of our grandchildren to see “The Boy Who Would Be King.” The message was quite clear: children will lead us in resolving the many challenges confronting us. This reminds me of the Parkland kids’ reaction to the horrible shooting in their school a year ago, as well as to this amazing video that came across my newsfeed. Check it out! I have also been reading a book called “Love in a Time of Climate Change,” published in 2017, written by Sharon Delgado. It is a meditation, in part, on the story of the Good Samaritan. I think you’ll be surprised by the depth of the meaning of this parable, and its challenge to us about climate justice.
You know the story of the Good Samaritan, and I could summarize it here, but there is something powerful about reading the story as Luke tells it.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers,
who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by
chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed
by on the other side. So, likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw
him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to
where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and
bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast
and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day, he took out
two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him and whatever
more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10-30-35)
Sharon Delgado has multiple insights into what the road to Jericho signifies, and how to understand the priest and Levite, and to see ourselves in this parable. I will not do justice to her work, so I encourage you to read this book. What I will do here is point out two powerful ideas, one which was pointed out by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, some years ago, and one that I think is Professor Delagdo’s.
MLK in “Beyond Vietnam” called on us to shift our focus from the one man who was robbed and beaten, to the conditions that make the road to Jericho so dangerous. He wrote:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice
of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play
the Good Samaritan on life’s roadsides, but that will be only an initial act. One
day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so
that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their
journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a
beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs
restructuring. (Cf. Delgado, 114)
What is so powerful about this insight, that conditions are such that the Jericho road is a place of violence and terror. Those conditions are economic, political and religious. They are conditions that are the end result of human decision-making, decision-making that is often skewed by bias, self-interest, pursuit of power and blindness. It is not good enough to give the homeless man at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge a bottle of water (Praise to those who do!); true compassion is to seek to change the conditions that make homelessness much more likely for some. It is not good enough to recycle, to get solar panels on our domestic roofs, and to take more public transportation (Praise to those who do); true compassion seeks to change political, economic and cultural systems that support the juggernaut of consumerism and capitalism that pursue short term economic gain at the tremendous cost of a depleted and increasingly inhospitable planet.
The other point that Professor Delgado makes concerns the priest and the Levite. When I’ve read this parable, or heard it in church, I tend to think of the cleric or the professional religious person of today. I do this for good reason since a target of Jesus’ criticism via the parable are the leaders of religion in his day who chose their dedication to ritual and law over a compassionate response to those who are suffering. However, Professor Delgado prods us to think a bit deeper. She writes:
The priest and the Levite confront us with the fact that our social location may
prevent us from seeing how we participate in unjust systems that oppress or victimize
people. For example, white people can be blind to white privilege, even as they
receive all the benefits of whiteness when it is defined as the norm. People who are
wealthy may not see how their wealth is structurally related to poverty. The distance
and complexity of globalization make it hard for privileged people to see how they
contribute to the suffering of people in other parts of the world. (Delgado, 112)
How powerful is this insight! The priest and Levite were so blinded by their social position and its “obligations” that they were unable to see a suffering person, in need of their aid. It is the same for those of us who enjoy privilege, especially the privilege of race and of wealth. Climate disruption is already wreaking havoc in many corners of the globe, but the victims of the havoc tend to be brown and black skin people, as well as people who are poor. They tend to come from the southern part of the globe, not the primary agents of anthropogenic climate change, yet they bear the brunt of it today, and will into the future. Even in the global north, when climate disruption-related weather events take place, like Hurricane Katrina, it is easy to see the disproportionate impact on black and brown people, as well as poor people. The visuals from post-Katrina are an affront to any pretense that the USA is a land of equality and justice for all. The fact that the poor and people of color are disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of climate disruption is a result of economic, political, cultural and religious beliefs and policies and practices that manifest systemic bias.
There is so much work to be done in response to the challenge of climate disruption. The work must begin with each of us, rooting out of our hearts and minds those biases and assumptions that support systemic injustice. How often have we clung to our positions in society, our privilege, our life style or our fear of losing what we have, rather than listen to, really see, and respond to the cries of the poor and the cries of the Earth? How often have we averted our look, crossed the street, or otherwise ignored or denied the suffering of our neighbors, whether near or far?
Let’s be honest. The courage and compassion of the Samaritan is often quite beyond our imaginations, let alone our capacity to imitate. Let’s pray that we welcome opportunities to undergo a transformation of our own hearts and minds. Let’s pray that we can really listen to those who are suffering, to ask their forgiveness for the part we play in that suffering, and, finally, be the good neighbor that Jesus calls us to be.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
The Center for Environmental Transformation