Monday, July 28, 2008

The Good Samaritan.

Today I had the opportunity to consider providing assistance to a complete stranger. M., E., and I were walking home from the new cafe in the neighborhood next to ours, when we came across an old woman who appeared to be perturbed. She began talking out loud before we even reached the proximity necessary to distinguish her words. At first I made the flawed assumption that she was addled in some way, and considered ignoring her. But I soon discovered that she wanted specific information about the patterns of public transit. She wanted to know if the bus stopped on the corner that she was standing on. We advised her to walk down to a nearby corner that was demarcated with a "Bus Stop" sign.

As we slowly accompanied her down the street, she began complaining about the public transportation in Pittsburgh. For anyone in town this should come as no surprise. The city has been flirting with bankruptcy for years, and there has been some obvious mismanagement of the Port Authority. Anyway, they've cut routes and the remaining ones don't seem to fit any obvious logic. This woman was bewildered about the fact that she would have to go all the way downtown to catch a transfer, just to get to the neighborhood right over the bridge from ours. She made the point that it is especially difficult to get around with all the road closings that somehow coincide with the 250th anniversary of the city.

Here was a 91-year old woman who just wanted to get to her home... a mere mile or so from where she was stranded. No one could look her in the face and then complain about having to pay taxes for public transit. After we walked her the block or so to the nearest stop, the entire situation began to gnaw at me. We picked up our pace, as I resolved to come back with my car to see if she still needed a ride. Fortunately she must have been picked up shortly after we parted ways. I just missed out on my chance to play the "Good Samaritan". And then naturally I started to think about the etymology of that term. Was it truly appropriate to characterize today's situation under that term?

The concept itself originated in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10 verses 25–37). Some anonymous lawyer wants to justify his behavior, and interrogates Jesus about the way to heaven. He asks what should be expected of him in order to gain entry to paradise. Jesus speaks of "loving thy neighbor", and this puzzled the lawyer, who asks for additional clarification on that point. The Christ relates the "Parable of the Good Samaritan". Some dude gets the beat down by some highway robbers and lies bleeding on the street. A Priest and a Levite pass by without helping, for their own individual reasons. But then a Samaritan stops by, ministers to the victim with "oil and wine", and then drops him off at an inn with funds for further assistance.

So who is this "Samaritan", and what relevance does his ethnicity have in the exchange? Apparently the Samaritans were the first outsider sect of Judaism. They are basically Jews*, except with the important distinction that they believe that God has already revealed himself at Mount Gerizim. Without going into unnecessary detail, this group became despised by conventional Jews because of this theological discrepancy, and because the group was later perceived to be actively collaborating with the Hellenization of the Holy Land. That's the crux of the story right there- this anonymous Samaritan was blessed even though he wasn't one of the "Chosen People" of the Hebraic faith. The guy stepped up and earned himself a place in the afterlife. I think its a revealing tale, given the self-righteousness by a lot of the modern-day faithful.


* As of November of 2007, there were reportedly 712 Samaritans left, primarily living on Mount Gerizim and in the settlement of Holon, near Tel Aviv. Historically they have not allowed intermarriage, which has caused a disproportionate amount of genetic diseases.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Shomron said...

First, your comment of the Samaritans being Jewish is incorrect. They are Samaritan Israelites from the remnant of the northern kingdom of Israel. The believe in Mount Gerizim for so many reasons, that most people do not understand or have ever taken the time to learn of them. The Jews also actively collaborated with the Hellenization in the Holy Land also, at each different times with different intruders. One important aspect of a Samaritan, is love they nieghbor as himself. This is a very important rule they live by. I have seen so many writers type down incorrect information. First the were many different sects living in Israel, the were also Jews and Pagans living in Samaria which would make the Samaritans under the term. But a Samaritan-Israelite, would have lived as the Torah instructed him and would not have changed religions or agreed with other religions as so many pastors have declared.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

yeah, well I don't know how much clearer I could have been in a short description. I stand by my characterization of them as "basically Jews"... I later point out that they were not considered by mainstream Jews as "the chosen people", and that there were distinctions.

Most people have never "taken the time to learn of them" likely because there are less than a 1000 of them left (as I pointed out).

Did you actually read my post? Didn't you notice my reference to the "love thy neighbor" stuff? I thought that was a fairly prominent element of the piece.

And where did you get the idea that I contradicted your assertion that there were "many different sects living in Israel"? I wrote...

"Apparently the Samaritans were the first outsider sect of Judaism."

If you have contrary information, I would love to hear about it. But if you are going to be critical, it helps to be specific and source whatever discrepancies you post.

Finally, I think it was fairly obvious in my post that I was talking about "Samaritan Israelites". My reference to them as "basically Jews" (which you evidently took exception to), should have been a clear tip-off.

1:16 PM  

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