In our world and in our time, who are the people from whom we do not expect to see goodness and compassion?
Last week’s Gospel story was the infamous parable of the Good Samaritan, a story Jesus tells about a Samaritan man who stops to help someone who has been beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die (and who has also already been ignored by two well-respected members of society who passed by, a priest and a Levite). As I wrote about last week on this blog, one of the key things to know about this story is that the Samaritans were marginalized people in Jesus’ time, despised by Jews and non-Jews alike. While we today are used to saying the phrase “good Samaritan,” easily associating “good” with “Samaritan,” people at Jesus’ time would have been shocked by pairing “good” with “Samaritan.” They believed nothing good could come from Samaria.
In high school, I was one grade ahead in math, which meant having to sit through math class everyday with students a year ahead of me, most of whom simply ignored my presence. There was one boy from my year who was in the same situation, someone with whom I might have chosen to be friends—Alex. But Alex was on the hockey team, and I was confident that nothing good could come of being friends with someone on the hockey team. So I simply ignored him.
Where did my prejudice against hockey players come from? Well, I grew up in basketball household in a state that loves its hockey. My parents were very clear about their disdain for hockey (and I made the logical leap to assume that anyone who played this Neanderthal sport, which was completely off limits to my siblings and me, must be an idiot). Not to mention the hockey players in my middle school had been arrogant and mean, playing pranks on unsuspecting bystanders and cracking jokes at the expense of whoever was their target of the day.
On the first day of senior year, Alex was not in my first hour class, but then he was in my next four classes. I began the year as I had the other three before: by pretending he did not exist. But as we were forced to work together on class projects and to participate in discussions together, we slowly (and begrudgingly on my part) got to be friends. It turned out we both loved math and playing Trivial Pursuit, listened to the same music, and enjoyed our fiercely competitive tennis matches against each other. Turns out something good can come from the hockey team.
Talking about my prejudice about hockey players in high school may seem like a trivial example, and it is in the face of the very real prejudice that people face everyday based on their sex, race, class, ability, sexuality, and religion, both here in the United State and around the world. (For example, I think of the prejudice that people of the Muslim faith in the U.S. face in the aftermath of 9/11. Many of us likely know a person whose prejudice was, and still is, that nothing good can come from Islam.) But the root of any prejudice is the same: our willingness to ignore or erase the humanity of others. For a long time, I was not willing to treat Alex as a human being; rather, I thought of him as a mere cog in a group of worthless hockey players. When we act based on our prejudices, on our prejudgments about people, we cease to treat them as human beings, as beloved people they are simply because they are children of God.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told the crowd that good could indeed come from Samaria. If he were here today, he would likely tell us that good can come from where we least expect it, if we train ourselves to look for goodness everywhere.
As you think about your school, are there groups of people from whom goodness and compassion is not expected? Where do you think these prejudices come from?
As you think about your city and our nation, are there groups of people from whom goodness and compassion is not expected? Where do you think these prejudices come from?