A woman was going down from Asheville to Greenville, and was involved in an automobile accident that rendered her can inoperable and left her stranded. Now a tow truck driver from Travelers Rest was coming to tow her back to Greenville; when he discovered the woman supported Bernie Sanders, he turned around and went home, leaving her on the side of the highway.
Mr. Ken Shupe, the driver of the tow truck, later said in an interview, “Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and he just said get in the truck and leave… And when I got in my truck, you know, I was so proud, because I felt like I finally drew a line in the sand and stood up for what I believed.” Mr. Shupe was referring to his belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. That belief, according to Mr. Shupe, justified his refusal to help the woman, whom he judged to be a socialist. “I’m a conservative Christian, I’ve just drawn a line in the sand,” he said in a separate interview. “I’m not going to associate or conduct business with them.”
Maybe Mr. Shupe is a Christian. Only Jesus knows that for sure. Yet I do know, with certainty, that neither Jesus Christ, nor Christianity, provide any justification for Mr. Shupe’s actions.
This real-life story so closely parallels the parable of the Good Samaritan that I wonder if Jesus had this very interaction in mind when he responded to the lawyer who asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus recounts the tale of a Jewish man who fell into the hands of robbers who beat him and left him for dead on the side of the road. Two religious Jews walk along the road, crossing over to the other side purposely to avoid the injured man. Finally, a Samaritan comes along. Jewish people found Samaritans contemptible. They regarded them, at best, as slightly better than Gentiles. In most Jewish eyes, Samaritans were ethnically inferior and religiously heretical. The Samaritans held similar opinions of the Jews. There was no love lost between these two groups of people. It sometimes seems today that the relationship between Democrats and Republicans reflects the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritan in Jesus’ tale should have acted as the Jewish religious leaders did. Yet the Samaritan not only notices the Jewish person and his distress, but stops and aids the injured man, doing so extravagantly.
This story offers Christians a lot of guidance and direction for our time. I have been following several debates surrounding the issue of whether or not private businesses must be required to serve all customers. When people use Christianity as evidence in their debates, I accept the invitation to speak into them. My ordination and my vocation mandate that I listen to God’s Word and communicate it to the people I am called to serve. In this particular case, Mr. Shupe refused to serve a woman stranded on the side of the road, citing his faith as the reason. I believe the biblical witness speaks in total and uncompromising opposition.
Just a few paragraphs before Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke recounts a visit Jesus made to a Samaritan village. The Samaritans in that village refused to receive Jesus as a guest. Luke does not tell us why, yet given the tension between Jews and Samaritans, the lack of hospitality does not surprise me. In light of the poor reception, James and John offer to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume [the Samaritans].” Jesus turns to them and rebukes them for their vengeful attitude. Shortly after this episode, a Samaritan appears as the featured hero of Jesus’ narrative.
Allegorically speaking, Mr. Shupe should play the role of the Samaritan in Jesus’ story, and the young woman that of the injured Jew. However, Mr. Shupe’s behavior reflects the actions of the Jewish religious leaders in the story, and his comments reflect the statements the disciples made that earned them Jesus’ rebuke. Yet the lesson for us goes beyond mere allegory.
If all Christians could agree, which they do not, that Bernie Sanders supporters are as heretical as Samaritans were to Jews, there would still be no Christian justification for Mr. Shupe’s actions. Jesus tells his story to a Jewish audience, and makes it abundantly clear that the Samaritan heretic obediently serves God – whether or not he knows he is doing it! When we are confronted with people we do not agree with, even those we vehemently disagree with, we must remember that God can even act through them. God can and does act through individuals that we do not see eye to eye with, whether theologically, socially, or politically. To believe otherwise places limitations on God that we are not authorized to impose.
The parable itself even seems to obliterate narrow interpretations of who are our neighbors. The Samaritan in the story is a neighbor to the injured man. When Jesus tells the lawyer to go and show mercy as the Samaritan did, he broadens the definition of neighbor to include people in need, no matter how much divides us from them. If we take seriously Jesus’ call to “Go and do likewise,” then we need to become a neighbor to those we see who are in need. We may even begin to understand Jesus’ command to “Go,” as a mandate to draw near to those with whom we have the least in common. Imagine a Christianity that reflected that imperative.
Finally, Mr. Shupe referenced drawing “a line in the sand.” This common phrase brings to mind an incident recorded in John’s gospel. Jesus is teaching in the temple when a group of scribes and Pharisees bring in a woman “caught in adultery.” The religious leaders wanted to test Jesus, and asked him whether they should obey the Law of Moses and execute the woman. John recalls that Jesus “bent down and wrote on the ground,” before addressing their questions. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he said, before returning to write on the ground. Every one of the accusers went away, leaving only the woman and Jesus, who offers her forgiveness and a new life.
Jesus saw the humanity in this woman. He saw the humanity in her accusers. He saw the humanity in the Samaritans, the religious leaders, the victimized Jews, and the lawyer who questioned him in the first place. He sees each of their humanity, and loves them. He implores us to have the same love in ourselves. He wants us to see the humanity in every person we meet, recognizing that God loves and treasures them as much as God loves and treasures you. This is what being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is all about. It is about going out of our way to serve those who make us the most uncomfortable, the most frustrated, or the most disagreeable. Christianity is about all Trump supporters being willing to help a Sanders supporter in need, and all Sanders supporters being willing to help a Trump supporter in need. Ultimately, for a Christian, a person’s political, social, or even theological views never diminish the fact that we are talking about a person, a child of God, equal to you in God’s eyes.