If Thou Didst Ever Thy Dear Father Love
The streets of North America, and of the world, have been filling up lately. There have been massive waves of protest––but also rioting and looting; burning and destruction . . . On May 25, a black man died at the hands of policemen, and the whole world has exploded.
Among other things, the level of rage is astonishing. Rage by protestors. Rage by looters and arsonists. Rage by folk both common, and uncommon. (And where society goes––of course––the Internet follows. Some of most popular materials now traded on the Internet (for the entertainment of the curious) are videos about rage:––particularly videos of spoiled, entitled, middle-aged white women screaming with rage at whoever gets in their way, or displeases them in the slightest. “I want to speak to the manager,” they scream, at the top of their collective lungs. They’re called “Karens,” and people now derive pleasure in laughing them, and their hysterics, to scorn.)
But this rage, is not a joke. It’s not a joke. This rage is shaking the world. “No justice, no peace,” cry many, until their throats are raw. But what does this phrase; this message; this rallying cry, mean? “’No justice, no peace’” means that,”––wrote the Rev. Al Sharpton in 2014,
referencing something he first said in 1986––“until we see fairness and accountability, we will not remain silent.”
Unfortunately, some have interpreted this to mean that until there is fairness and accountability,
“we will not only cry out,”––(and here I assume their voice)––“but we will also burn and destroy, and take what we need from the overflowing treasuries of the rich and the entitled . . .
You are entitled to oppress and aggrieve; therefore, we are entitled to burn and destroy.
It’s as simple as that. And we will bring the suspension of peace to a whole new level, whether you like it or not . . . It is not only our right, but also our duty. No revolution has ever been prosecuted without the spilling of blood, “talk being useless”––and so blood will be spilled.”
Interestingly, today we read a story––a parable told by Jesus, and a very famous one at that––
that includes a small group of people (in this case men) who have engaged in an act––a criminal act––of raging roadside carnage. A man has set out on a journey, but in the twinkling of an eye he is accosted by violent men; and robbed; and beaten; to within an inch of his life.
In the Old World, as in the New, this is nothing new. On account of this travel in the Ancient Near East was risky at the best of times. Most people travelled in groups for this very reason;
but here is a man travelling alone: a prime target if there ever were one . . .
In any case, who were these robbers? I suspect almost no one has ever asked this question of this text!! We just think, “the robbers?? They were just wicked, wicked folk, not worth the time of day, of any commentator, other than to hate them.”
Who were they? Were they simply common criminals, lowlife brigands, or a company of the aggrieved? Did they hurt and harm merely to victimize, kill, or destroy, recklessly harvesting the property of others for themselves; or were they in fact part of an aggrieved people, thrust out into the margins of society, and not only marginalized, but profoundly oppressed at the same time––
having to fend for themselves without the least help or support; having to subsist on crusts of bread thrown to them by the entitled––people who dined on capers and caviar twice a day, and three times on Sunday??
And if they were, does this make their crime acceptable? No it does not. What if this man, their victim, was wealthy, or part of what is thought a privileged class? Does this make their crime acceptable? No, it does not. But perhaps they––whoever they were––felt otherwise.
“You ask me whether I approve of violence?” said civil rights icon Angela Davis to a Swedish interviewer in 1972. “That just doesn’t make any sense at all. [You ask me] whether I approve of guns? I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs:––bombs that were planted by racists. I remember, from the time I was very small,
the sound of bombs exploding across the street, and the house shaking . . .That’s why, when someone asks me about violence, I find it incredible:––because it means the person asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, and experienced, in this country, from the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”
The Ancient world was similarly unforgiving, and what people went through, was appalling.
Slavery was endemic, ––in fact it was an altogether common practice in all of antiquity, and not just in the Roman Empire––; and apparently no one thought anything of it.
Even St. Paul appears to accept slavery––not to mention the Old Testament––and people have been mad at him, and the Old Testament, ever since. Moreover, during Paul’s day scores upon scores upon scores of people lived in the most grinding poverty:––they and their families with them. In a world without social safety nets, poverty was not only systemic, but universal . . .
And people who rebelled against the system, like the slave-rebel Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who led a revolt against Rome from the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius in the first century before Christ, (––among other places––) were ruthlessly put down by the authorities. In fact they were crucified by the thousands.
In any case, we all know the story from here; that is to say, Jesus’ story. The robbers flee, leaving the man bleeding in the dust. In an even more criminal fashion, one might argue,
Others pass by. Yes, pass by. Shockingly, they are two religious folk. A priest and a Levite.
Finally, someone stops, and it is, of all people, a Samaritan. Yes, a Samaritan.
And who are Samaritans? Well, they were outcasts; at least, according to the Jews of Jerusalem.
In the 8th century before Christ, They had intermarried with Assyrians, who were foreigners who had conquered northern Israel. As a result––to speak crudely––they were considered not full Jews, but half Jews who had been “sleeping with the enemy,” and giving birth to “half-bred humans,” worthy of little more than contempt.
Such was the enmity between the Samaritans, and Jerusalem Jews, that the Samaritans built their own rival Temple at Shechem, i.e. at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, which was some 40 kilometers north of Jerusalem, and insisted that God always touched down there, and NOT in Jerusalem.
And so it is an outcast, irony of ironies; a disenfranchised outcast, he whom Jerusalem Jews would consider neither neighbor nor friend nor compatriot nor countryman; it is he who steps up to the plate!! It is he––and no other––who binds the man’s wounds; lifts him from the ground; places him upon his own donkey; ferries him to an Inn, and commissions the Innkeeper to house the injured man for as long as it takes to secure his healing.
The act of lifting the man from the ground is reminiscent of that extraordinary place in Ezekiel 16 where the Lord lifts Israel from the ground, like an abandoned infant:
“Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood,” says the Lord, “and as you lay there in your blood, I said to you, “Live!”
It is he, the Samaritan, who becomes like a father to the fatherless, pouring out both soul and substance in a stunning act of mercy, until the man is brought from death back to life––literally!!
And it is he who is therefore a picture or type of God himself––the Samaritan, and not the Jerusalem Jew.
Like Jesus, of whom Isaiah said, “that he, as the Messiah, was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief: despised, and without esteem . . .” it is the rejected Samaritan who stepped up to save the lost, ––at whatever cost––and not those duly vested with Jewish privilege, like the priest, or the Levite.
Now all of this is well known, of course.
But I submit to you––now listen closely if you would––that the Samaritan was so extraordinary in this regard––fictional character though he is––that I suspect he would, if he could, also step up to the plate for the robbers. I believe that he would also have had mercy on the robbers, to bind up, in them, what were perhaps much deeper wounds ironically, than those suffered by their victim––the kind of wounds that give rise to violent and vengeful behaviour; the kind of wounds that wreak havoc and unmake society. The wounds of disenfranchisement, perhaps, or worse.
I really believe he would!! I believe, that were it in his power to do it, the Good Samaritan would also have become like a father to these disaffected robbers, whoever they were.
Now you may find this hard to believe, let alone accept. In many people’s views, criminals,
particularly the practitioners of violence are simply, ––as Paul puts it in Romans 9–– “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” But here as elsewhere, Christ Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but that world, through him, might be saved. Christ Jesus came to save both victims, and victimizers. The robbers, too, deserve mercy, in spite of their wicked deeds.
If all of the rioting and looting, burning and destruction have shown us anything, it is just how deeply the world is in need, and how many of the peoples of the world, are very much like fatherless children.
I have been struck as I have watched the unrest––particularly the dark, and not the principled side of the unrest––how countless people swarming in the streets seem like lost children, many of them utterly fatherless . . .
They may be grown up children, of course, but they still seem children . . .
I believe that the Samaritan, of course, is much more than a character in a story.
He is a type, or a symbol, of God: the God who lifts up, heals, and redeems.
The God who lays down his life for others. The God who saves.
Moreover, the Samartian is a type, or a symbol, for the church. Why? Because the church, is commissioned to do the work of Christ, in this special instance, functioning, in its ministry,
in loco parentis. Have you ever heard of that phrase? It’s used all the time in teaching. It’s Latin, and simply means “in the place of a parent.”
For the church, in its ministry, is not only to step up to the plate,––like the Good Samartian did––
But begin to father the fatherless, whoever they are. The world is full of the fatherless, some of whom––not all of whom, (lest you think I am indicting single-parent households)––get into trouble . . .
But it’s Father’s Day, the day we honour what our own fathers did for us! Yes, we honour them!
It drives me crazy how on Mother’s Day, we gush and gush until the cows come home, but on Father’s Day, we do little but child our failed fathers, and cast an endless pall on the institution.
Not so here. While we acknowledge the existence of wicked and negligent parents, we should like to honour our fathers, warts and all, and the extraordinary sacrifices they have made for us!
And yes, let’s be––and become––fathers ourselves; fathers to the fatherless! In loco parentis according to the commission of the Spirit to the church.
I have a married couple in my church that is doing this ministry right now. And it’s amazing!!! Truly amazing! They have become astonishing resource persons to a host of children and their parents, giving help, skilled counsel, practical assistance, conflict resolution, love, and support, you name it . . .Being and becoming present, by the grace of God. Already they have accomplished so much good, and been responsible for much, much healing, and uplift. They really have!!
God is good, dear people, he really is. A father to the fatherless, as no other.