“And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?” Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
The Message (MSG)
For me, never was Jesus a better storyteller than this most excellent narrative designed to cut through a whole load of bullshit. It cuts through our excuses, our Pride, our self-protection. It cuts through our “obedience”, it cuts through our sacrifices and religion and “holiness” and gets down to what no self help guru will tell you. That the gospel, God’s Kingdom, the Plan “A” of rescue is about the outsider, the unholy, the “abomination”, the other. That following in the feet of the Master isn’t about rules and right and wrong – but about getting bloody and dirty serving the ones who wouldn’t give you the time of day; about graciously receiving service from those outsiders you despised – and about serving them in return.
There’s a popular Polish proverb been doing the rounds on Social Media the last couple of years. “Not my Circus, Not My Monkeys” has been advocated and repeated by people I love and respect – and yet the very idea of it makes me sick to my stomach. It’s intended to sum up the idea of not letting other people drag you into their “crap” because it’s simply nothing to do with you. Think carefully about that idea. I mean really think. I’ve heard the arguments in favour. “I’m just protecting myself, it’s only sensible, like wearing a seatbelt”, “I can’t deal with your rubbish because otherwise I will just fall apart and then I can’t lead properly”, “They’re just seeking attention, don’t give in to their little dramas”. But if you as a Jesus disciple really, honestly think that the Not My Circus, Not my Monkeys is the way to go, you need to listen to the great storyteller again, because you’ve misunderstood his message and what the Kingdom is about. The Kingdom of God is about as far from Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys as you can get. The Kingdom is stepping in to lives and situations unlike your own to bring justice and love to people when it doesn’t benefit you. Oh yes, you should listen to the great storyteller.
You should dive into stories themselves, stories of others, stories of the people Jesus would say are your neighbours – stories to build your empathy; for story is the great engine of empathy, holding pictures up to us of people we might never meet and showing us that they are more like us than we could ever imagine – that they too fear for their families, go hungry, fall in love and enjoy rainbows. And they show us those Samaritans who feel the empathy, see the situation that’s “nothing to do with them” and dive in anyway to serve and love and show kindness.
For a Modern(ish) day real life take on the Good Samaritan and a story that embodies the spirit of Empathy and opposes Not My Circus No My Monkeys, take an evening with your friends to share in “Pride”. With a plot summed up simply as a group of people who happen to be Lesbian and Gay who raise money to support Miners who were striking as part of the 1984 National Strike, the heart and soul of the story goes deeper. It goes to the heart of what it really means to seek Justice. It goes to the heart of what Jesus talks about when he advocates turning our backs on religiosity and instead to Love and Service as expressions of God’s Kingdom.
The leader of the Group (called not surprisingly Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) Mark Ashton sums up his philosophy in the idea that it’s not enough to fight for justice for himself and his own group – Marching in the Pride March for LGBT equality & Justice – but for real Justice to be achieved you must stand with others who are downtrodden, in need and outcast. At face value, the LGSM group and the inhabitants of the Welsh Mining village have nothing in common. And then both recognise that all we really need in common is our humanity.
As the plot unfolds, there’s the sadness of the opposition of some in the village as they reject much needed help because of who is giving it. (Imagine if the story of the Samaritan ended with the beaten man retreating from his saviour saying “Get away from me you vile man, I’ll have nothing to do with you. i’d rather die than be helped by you” – Sadly I see this attitude even in church towards LGBT folk.) There’s the joy of flowering friendships, of acceptance, of gratitude. The Pride in joining together in unity, in solidarity. There’s fear of dependence, fear of disease, fear of guilt by association. There’s utter sadness in parent rejecting their child and there is joy in the reconciliation of friends. And there is the unutterable joy when story culminates in the reciprocation of support from the Miners to those who helped them. Honestly, I cried a lot in that finale.
So these two stories dovetail to show us the way of the Kingdom of God – you know, the one we pray to come. How does it come? By us living it. By choosing the way of support over religion, by choosing involvement over self protection, by choosing to see a person instead of an issue, by choosing to see our brothers and sisters instead of an abomination. By getting down and dirty in other people’s crap and issues and selfishness and desperation. By celebrating in other people’s triumphs and joys and Love and identities. By stopping on our way to the Temple and binding each others’ wounds. By coming home from the Temple to join in a celebratory Meal. By saying, although I don’t really ‘get’ you I have your back. By mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice. By helping our neighbouring circus deal with their monkeys.