On the Legitimate Dangers of Being a Good Samaritan

Ok, so I’m walking down the sidewalk and see a man beaten and lying down.  He looks foreign.  Not Canadian-foreign, maybe with a nice overcoat and glasses, but foreign-foreign, with dark skin, dirty clothes (obviously dirty before he got hurt), and I definitely don’t recognize the brand of shoes he’s wearing.  First thing in my mind: this man is dangerous.  Obviously.  Second thing in my mind: get the hell out of there.  Probably a good idea, but let’s consider this rationally.  As a concerned member of society, I don’t want bigotry and bias getting in my way.

First, let’s inspect the possibilities of whether or not the guy is actually hurt.  Given the amount of beggars I see on the road, and given the amount of poor people being let into the country illegally or legally these days, the chances seem pretty high that he’s not actually hurt, or at least not as bad as it looks.  So the pie chart of decision looks something like this:

Step 1

Mental Decision 1: Is he faking?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But for his sake, let’s assume he’s actually hurt.  Let’s assume the blood on his chin is real, and his mumblings–in whatever language they are–are calls for help.  Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.  This leads us to our next decision point.

Will he hurt me?

This is a hard one to answer.  Lots of people hurt other people.  And chances are even higher for people who are already hurt!  Statistics show that people involved in crime have a higher likelihood of committing crime themselves. On the off-chance that he is actually hurt, what did he do to get so badly injured?  Who did he piss off?  Ok, let’s pie chart this as well, taking into account things like foreign dangers, illegal immigrants, and criminals in general.

Step 2

Mental Decision 2: Will he hurt me?

Also what I thought.  I’m getting really nervous now, but I’m gonna continue to give this guy the benefit of the doubt.  Its my Christian responsibility.  Let’s assume he’s among the 5% who will be peaceful (this is of course assuming he’s among the 10% who is not faking).  I have one final decision to make.  If I help him–say, call the paramedics or take him somewhere myself (let’s be honest, I’m not touching this guy)–what are the chances he holds some anti-American or violent ideas?  Will be perpetuate those ideas?  Does he hate me for looking at him?  Will his ideas harm my children, or my children’s children?  I’ll forgive the fact that he’s probably Muslim, because I know not all Muslims are bad people.  But what are the chances his ideas will wreak violence in the future?

Step 3

Mental Decision 3: Will his ideas hurt my children?

Not gonna lie, this one really surprised me!  If this guy is really hurt, and if he won’t hurt me immediately, there’s a 90% chance that his ideas won’t harm me or my progeny in the future.  But…that 10%.  I have to think about that.  How can I look my grandchildren in the eyes one day and tell them that I let a potential terrorist run free?  How can I face my wife at home as she pulls the perfectly-cooked roast from the oven and gets the children to the table in anticipation of my arrival? How can I tell them that I brought risk upon our way of life?

Honestly, I can’t.  And Jesus, well, Jesus would not want me to endanger my family.  He said “let the children come to me,” not “endanger these children by sending terrorists after them”!  I know, God, the whole good samaritan story…well, there are stipulations. There are needs to a civil society, and I’m not about to risk my livelihood and those around me because of the lessons of one fable told a few thousand years ago.  Jesus said a lot of things, and I am absolutely still a good Christian even if I don’t help this man.

Look, I’ll call the cops, that’s what I’ll do.  They’ll probably arrest him for getting in the way, but people get health care–free health care at that–in prison, so his wounds will get taken care of.  Then if he’s guilty, they’ll have him locked up, and if he’s innocent, someone will come and help him out.  I’m sure of it.  People in prison get plenty of help these days, and there’s translators available in case he doesn’t speak our language.  Great idea.  Cops will clean all this up.  Whew.

Oh, and I’ll make sure my family remembers him in prayers tonight.  It’s the least I can do.

10 responses to “On the Legitimate Dangers of Being a Good Samaritan

  1. You know there is a bigger divide in Christian communities than Protestant and Catholic and it’s best expressed in the Starbuck’s red cup “controversy,” the idea that there are “good” Christians and bad/ignorant/hypocritical Christians that are always shown on the news and give the “real Christians” a bad name.

    While the irony wasn’t lost on me, the scenario you’ve described is a real struggle not just because of recent events in the news that make us afraid of our neighbor but in living in a wealthy society that is suspicious of it’s neighbor, especially if that neighbor is from a lower to lower middle class background-one that stands out in a polished suburb. Maybe Christians have grown too comfortable, but I would just love to read one post that isn’t full of sarcasm, a cool ironic tone, and spite (a watered down, more intellectual hate) in response to the author’s belief that we live in a world of hate. Because love and hate will always coexist in this world so long as human souls are given choice, Christianity has never promised otherwise, but it did promise that love would always overcome in the end. And I still believe that in spite of everything I’ve seen lately.

    • Thanks for your comment. If post betrays anger at the situation, it betrays it genuinely. I don’t feel spiteful towards people who profess Christ’s name and yet ignore rather obvious teachings, I feel angry, especially at those who hold enormous amounts of power and influence. Love and hate will coexist, and yet the lesson of the Good Samaritan from scripture is remarkably devoid of all the qualifications in this article. There is no discussion of hatred, nor of injury to self, nor of future injury to children. There is only compassion, and mercy, even in the face of danger. Christianity will always involve risk, as our Pope has pointed out many times.

      I don’t think the Starbucks issue shows this divide. I think that issue was silly. I do think, however, that people mask their Christianity under cloaks of fear, and are not often enough taught the enduring words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “Be not afraid.” The late Holy Father worked tirelessly, in much danger to himself and countless others, to end the communist regime around the world. And he was successful, as will we be. I do hope you believe that still, as he faced far worse evils than we do today, despite what some might have us believe. Take risks, be merciful, and be not afraid. Those are the lessons from the good samaritan story in my book, and lessons that many would do well do remember in the next few weeks.

      Thanks for your comment, and for pushing me to engage in more than just my satirical story!

  2. Perhaps there is a lack of true Christian witness to the faith as outlined in the gospel, and I too would love to see a return closer to the roots and beyond the secular, watered down Christianity which, as you pointed out, is sort of a compromise between Christian values and the trendy values of the world and takes all the real risk out of it.

    And, as silly as I think the Starbucks red cup thing was, I think it shows how easily Christians write off Christianity as something ridiculous by distancing themselves from the title of Christian, which completely plays into that ideal of having a sort of new psedo-Christianity that doesn’t have Christ or the name Christian anywhere in the title, just general happy feelings of a vague universal love that never offends anybody ever and has no solid doctrine.

    And as for the good Samaritan I agree that that’s quite the story precisely because the man did exactly what no man in his right mind would do and that takes a level of trust in God that is often absent in today’s day and age. Because if I were to write a satirical story about the good samaritan I would not write one where the neighbor looks at the neighbor and decides to do nothing. I imagine I would write one where the passerby is too preoccupied looking at himself or reading the news, so busy worrying about himself and the vague universal masses, that he doesn’t even bother to look at his neighbor at all, much less take the time to love him.

    But thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. And as much as I hate linking to anything I think you might like this article becasue it was written from a simliar place and it would be interesting to hear your feedback: http://yourcatholicmuse.com/2015/08/27/im-not-angry/

  3. The point of the Good Samaritan was not about “doing a good deed” or “going out of our way to help someone who’s down and out.” Jesus’ parables served one purpose and one purpose only, to point people to the way of salvation. He used that illustration to show the Pharisees the hardness of their own hearts which was preventing them from acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. The Pharisee and the Levite in the story would have been more concerned about ceremonial uncleaness with the point being this; they were so caught up in the Mosaic Law, it prevented them from showing mercy.

    Of course we’re commanded to help the poor and those in need. That’s addressed in the gospels. But when a Christian encounters a situation like the one in your scenario, we need to learn to trust our judgement and instincts, because the Holy Spirit gives us the discernment we need to make the decision as to whether to reach down and offer a hand, or if we should back off and call 9-1-1. Jesus Himself retreated a few times when the crowds became hostile. One time they were about to throw Him off a cliff, but He managed to slip away. Another time the crowd was about to stone Him, and again he slipped away. So there are Biblical precedents for self preservation in certain situations. We must learn to trust the instincts God gave us, while at the same time never using “instincts” or “gut feeling” as an excuse to do nothing.

    • Thank you for your comment, but I must disagree with you about the meaning of the parable. The parable speaks clearly about mercy and care for those in need, and for going out of your way to help someone who needs help. It can certainly be read as a warning to the ruling classes in Israel–the priests and Levites–but it is not solely about them. And the interpretation of uncleanliness is, again, just one way to read the story. It is helpful to look at the text in this case. Note verse 37. A final two points: I would challenge you to find a single instance where Jesus encounters someone sick, blind, or in need and turns away. Finally, I find it surprising that you would argue that Jesus kept himself free from danger, since when he died on the cross, he did so quite willingly, even telling people not to fight for him in the garden. Jesus preserved his life so that he could give it away freely at the right time. If nothing else, self-sacrifice is one of the key lessons of the Pauline line to “live like Christ.” Again, thank you for commenting, and I wish you peace.

      Luke 10:29-37:
      29: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
      30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
      36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
      37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
      Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

      • Jesus never turned away from anyone who was in need. In fact,the very heart of Jesus’ ministry was meeting people at their point of need. Like I said, the commands to help those in need are addressed in the gospels. I believe all Christians understand that. Plus, Jesus modeled it plenty of times. That was never the point being addressed. The issue being addressed, I thought was the matter of whether or not we should blindly take risks and put ourselves in harm’s way, and it just so happened that the given example was a stranger in need. The parable of the good Samaritan was, so I thought, being held up as “the example we should all go by when we encounter such situations” and I disagreed because that was not the point of the parable.

        We have to keep in mind that the Pharisee, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the victim were not real people. The parable was told in response to the question, ” And who is my neighbor?” The question came from an expert in the law who had memorized the words of the law but had no idea of their meaning. The parable was intended to show the Pharisees the hardness of their hearts and their need for a savior. Two to three years into His ministry, and what was the conclusion of the Pharisees? That Jesus did what He did by the power of hell. That was their conclusion. To quote John MacArthur: “Do you know why Jesus taught in parables? It was a judgment. It was a judgment on willful, hard-hearted unbelief. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given and he will have an abundance.” That’s you, disciples. “But whoever doesn’t have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore, I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, while hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand.” This is a judgment.

        There is not another parable in the entire New Testament told by anyone but Jesus because parables are for judgment and only Jesus can render that judgment. You don’t have the apostle Paul going into a city and rendering a judgment on that city by speaking in things they can’t understand because he is not the judge. Parables are confined. There are not even any of them in John. There are 40 parables. They’re all in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are confined to the ministry of Jesus Christ because they are acts of divine judgment, which only He can render.

        His parables are the same today. For believers, they illustrate the truth because we understand them. How do we understand them? Because they’re explained to us. I’ll even go beyond that; because we understand the whole of Scripture, because we understand the whole gospel, because we understand salvation. Even when we don’t have a recorded explanation, we understand the parables; not because we’ve been given some mystical insight but because – listen carefully – all parables are about the gospel. All 40 are about the gospel. They’re all about salvation, and if you understand salvation in its fullness and its richness, and by the way, the more you understand the fullness and richness of salvation, the more you will understand the parables” unquote.

        So the point I was trying to make was that the story of the good Samaritan has nothing to do with social justice nor is it a model for helping a victim get on his or her feet. Again, as John MacArthur points out, “That parable (and he’s talking specifically about the good Samaritan) is about self-righteous damnation. It’s a salvation story. It’s a story of what is true salvation and how it manifests itself. All parables are gospel illustrations. All parables express the theology of salvation.” unquote.

        The Bible is clear in that it is a sin to withhold good from those who need it and that we must do whatever is in our power to help and we should do what we can. That’s understood. I don’t believe the parable of the good Samaritan is “our model” because Jesus gave plenty of real life examples for us to emulate. He didn’t need to use a parable to make that point because he lived it out for us.

        So the parable of the good Samaritan is not an admonition for us to “risk everything to help a stranger.” It’s not that at all. I used those two situations Jesus encountered to show that there is a time to use wisdom. As Matthew Henry pointed out in his commentary on John 10:39 (that’s when Jesus slipped away when they wanted to stone him) “His flight was not an inglorious retreat…..but by his own wisdom he got clear of them.” and that was simply the point I was trying to make. Matthew Henry also pointed out that it was only when his hour had come did Jesus surrender Himself. But until then, He did remove Himself from dangerous situations on certain occasions, yes because his hour had not yet come, but also for the well being of those in His company. “During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.”

        My whole point was that we need to use godly discernment and wisdom when we encounter situations like the one that was laid out for us in the original post and as I understood it, the question being posed was not about helping someone in need, but whether or not it’s acceptable for us to use caution and remove ourselves from certain dangerous situations if the circumstances warrant. Again, it boils down to obeying the spirit and if something doesn’t feel quite right, chances are the Holy Spirit is telling you to back away and use caution and if you feel the need to remove yourself from that situation, you should probably do so. While it’s understood that ministry can be messy and even dangerous at times, as any Christian missionary in a Muslim country can attest to, we should never act foolishly and take unnecessary risks, key word ‘unnecessary’, because there might be a time when risk is necessary. But again, that’s where wisdom and discernment come into play.

        I certainly hope this clears up any confusion.

      • Thanks for such a thoughtful response! I certainly understand where you’re coming from, though I still disagree as to the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan, as I interpret the parable more widely than you would allow. I appreciate you clearing up your ideas, though, as it helps to see where you’re coming from. I think there’s an inherent risk in interpreting the parables as I see you doing, but that’s a discussion we can have some other time! Thanks for entering into conversation.

  4. I have benefitted from reading the whole discussion about the good Samaritan, thanks for going over and over this topic. I agree with both John and jeremiah but tend more to Jeremiah’s take on it because I feel that Jesus gave us lessons, not rules, he gave us outlines and we need to use our love, compassion, and integrity to fill in the details, to flesh out the actions that situations call for.

    As a Christian I know that it would be my duty to do something for someone in the street who is injured (or at least appears that way) but as a Christian I also have a responsibility to act “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” which goes along with the whole part about not necessarily simply stepping in and hauling him off to the hospital. Life was different in Jesus’ time, and he would not mind if we apply his teachings into our context. The heart and soul of his message must remain, we must never become hardened to poverty, injustice, cruelty – whatever it may be – yet we must maintain an equilibrium so as to survive.

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