Who Is My Neighbor?: Reflections on The Good Samaritan

Some of you may be wondering what the story of the Good Samaritan and Black Panther have to do with each other.  Others may be wondering, “Wasn’t this supposed to be a weekly blog?  Why then has it been two weeks since your last post?”.  These are both good questions.  And I hope to answer them by the end of this post.

I recently, like most indoctrinated into the cult of capitalism and pop culture, watched Marvel’s latest movie Black Panther.  In fact I watched it twice, one of those times being unintentional.  How watching a movie can be unintentional is a tale for another time.  Anyways, it was pretty good.  Pretty good indeed.  And it raised some pretty important questions, much more than the typical super hero flick.  Chiefly, it asked a question that seemed pretty familiar to me: Who is my neighbor?  (Yes, I am aware I used ‘pretty’ way too many times in that last paragraph.  My inner English student hates it.  My pragmatic self doesn’t care much.)

Now, as the title of my blog post suggests, some of the themes addressed in Black Panther reminded me of the New Testament Bible story, or rather parable, of the Good Samaritan. In the story of the Good Samaritan, a student of Jewish law questions Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor’, in response to hearing the Great Commandment, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Now, in typical Jesus fashion, he didn’t answer the question directly.  Instead he did it via a parable, a simple allegorical story with a simple truth.  In it, a man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of a road.  Several people pass him, people you would expect to help him, and it is not until a Samaritan, the last person you’d expect to help a Jew in those times, passes by that he is helped.  Whew, that was a lot of run-on sentences.    I’m gonna’ take a breather for a sec.  Don’t mind me.  Go get a snack or check your email.

I’m back.  I’m sorry to have left you in such a long and arduous state of suspense.  So back to the parable.  The Samaritan proceeds to administer first-aid to the Jew, and brings him to the nearest hotel.   He pays the innkeeper to care for the man, and promises more money a few days ahead.  All without any expectation of getting paid in return.  The parable ends.  Jesus asks, ‘Who was the Jew’s neighbor?’  The student of the Law answer, ‘The one who showed him mercy’.

Nowadays, this story kinda’  seems like common sense.  But back in Jesus’s day this was a big deal.  Due to a long and complicated history, the Jew’s and Samaritans hated each other (even though they were basically the same people who lived exactly the same life-style).  So as I mentioned before, a Samaritan was the last person you’d expect to help a Jew.  But he did it anyways.  As Christians, and just as decent people in general, we are called to provide aid for any in need, not just the people we like, or those who are similar to us.  Now, on to the Black Panther connection.

I will try to avoid any overt spoilers of Black Panther, but I will touch upon some of the basic themes.  So if you would not like to see these, scroll ahead until the next bolded sentence.  But you’ll kinda’ be missing out.

In Black Panther, the fictitious country of Wakanda is one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries in the world.  And nobody else knows about it.  Wakanda has hid from the world and remained out of any conflicts as a policy, which is probably the reason they ended up as they did.  So while they might not have to deal with issues such as poverty or racism, the rest of the world does.

This fuels the motivations of the movie’s villain.  He’s grown up in the outside world, so he know’s what it’s like.  He also knows Wakanda has the resources to help with this.  However, he takes this to extreme levels.  So while his heart was in the right place, his actions certainly were not.  But by the end of the movie, Black Panther, a.k.a. T’Challa, realizes there’s some truth to this.  So he ends Wakanda’s  isolationist practices and instead begins to offer aid to the outside world.

So, who was Wakanda’s (and our) neighbor?  The short answer is, anyone and everyone in need.  We’re all human beings, so if possible, we should help each-other out.  That includes those who are different from us.

An increasing trend in America, and some other parts of the world is to keep aid internalized and not help those outside of their own borders.  And what disturbs me even more is that this trend is especially prevalent inside of some Christian groups.  How could you claim to follow Christ’s teachings and not help the poor?  Or shelter the refuge?  Or tear apart the immigrant family who’s barely making ends meet?  For those of you who already “Love your neighbor” I don’t mean this as a criticism.  And for those who may not I don’t mean to criticize you.  Instead I mean this post as a wake-up call, a rally to serve those in need, in whatever way you are able to.  Also, you should go see Black Panther.  It was a pretty great movie.

So remember how I said I would tell you why I missed a week (or two) back at the beginning?  Turns out I was busy.  A lame excuse, but a real one.  So tune in next week for a new post….hopefully.  Probably.  Yes, probably.  And I’ll try to make it a little less serious than this one.


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