Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Will you (or I) be Freddie Gray’s neighbor?

If I, as a Christian, take Scripture seriously -- and I do -- then, according to Jesus’ own words recorded in Luke where he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, Baltimore resident Freddie Gray was my neighbor.

Now it’s my job to determine who I am in the parable. And so must you.

Here’s the story, found in Luke 10:25-37 (ESV):

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
[Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

[The lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

[Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man [a Jew] was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.

“So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

“Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying,Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.

“Which of these three, [asked Jesus of the lawyer] do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

[The lawyer] said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Freddie Gray was an unarmed black man chased and apprehended by police in Baltimore. Details are sketchy except for the facts that he was put into a police transport vehicle, was not strapped in, and later died from a broken neck.

While exactly how it happened is uncertain, that it should not have happened is certain.

And I believe the “why” it happened is probably more certain than many are comfortable admitting.

I’ve used a quote by Francis A. Schaeffer taken from his book titled The Mark of the Christian, many times and it bears repeating now:

“All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for other men. Hence, he downgrades the value of other men and produces the horrible thing we face today — a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of men.”

Freddie Gray bore the image of God and it seems that that image was devalued and defaced by others who also bear the image of God in them yet disregard and tamp down this reality.

This is a key element of what fosters man’s inhumanity to man.

* * *

A lot of people in Baltimore who deny and reject God’s image in themselves as well as deface that image in others are now at each others’ throats violently* asserting their own perceived rights over those of others with whom they are in conflict.

Those throwing bricks and worse at police are devaluing the police -- men and women created in the image of God.

Those looting and burning stores are devaluing the owners and the employees of those businesses -- men and women created in the image of God.

Those insisting all police are brutal goons devalue the honest cops putting their lives on the line day in and day out -- men and women created in the image of God.

Those who claim all the people in the streets crying for justice are worthless thugs devalue the concerned, hardworking residents in the communities asking honest questions that deserve answers -- men and women created in the image of God.

Those who were careless in the transporting of Freddie Gray devalued him and others in their custody -- men and women created in the image of God.

* * *

Many, like the lawyer to whom Jesus’ told the parable, defiantly taunt, “Why should I care about these people? Are they really my neighbors?”

By doing so we attempt to deflect our responsibility to those with whom we share this planet.

Others, like the priest and the Levite in the parable, look at the Freddie Grays of the world and say, “Nope. That’s not my neighbor. That’s no one I need to care about.”

I’m sure as Jesus is telling the parable the lawyer is listening and nodding, identifying with those who pass by the beaten man, thinking, “Exactly. Why should I care? I would pass by, too. After all, stopping would be a risk!”

Then Jesus radically shifts the narrative.

A Samaritan, a person who by the standards of the day would not have anything to do with a Jew, stops and exhibits extraordinary compassion. He ignores social mores  and boundaries and does the right thing, the human thing, the “God’s-image-in-him” thing.

No one asked the Samaritan to help. No one compelled the Samaritan to help. Yet he does not hesitate to take action.

Freddie Gray wasn’t set upon by robbers, but once in police custody when he expressed being in distress, he can be likened to the Jewish man left “half dead” in the parable. He was stripped and robbed of his dignity and worth as a human being created in the image of God, devalued and abused.

Freddie Gray needed a good Samaritan, someone to recognize him as a neighbor, someone to see his value, someone to acknowledge the image of God in him, but he got uncaring “priests” and “Levites” instead.

Again, now, it’s my job to determine who I am in this story. And so must you.

The lawyer in the end acknowledges that the one who shows mercy is the one who is acting as a neighbor to a neighbor in need, a neighbor in unfortunate circumstances.

Jesus tells him, “You go, and do likewise.”

So must we.

Relevant links:

* Fortunately, the situation appears to have calmed for the time being.
When you watch the news coverage of events in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland, New York City, and other places, how do you feel about what is happening. Angry? Sad? Helpless? Frustrated? Why? Do you agree with my post? Why or why not? How should we respond, as Christians, to these issues and events? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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