by Andy Daniell, Ph.D.

Martin Luther King JrIn his Gospel, Luke retells a conversation between Jesus and a man who was trying to justify his racial prejudice.

A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he 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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 ESV

Jesus indirectly answered the man’s question by telling what is called today The Parable Of The Good Samaritan. It is a story about a man of one race helping a man of another after those of his own race had refused him assistance. The parable is found in Luke 10: 30–37.
Jesus carefully chose the racial identities and roles of those in His story to make His point. But those characters were more meaningful then than now. Below is a rewrite which uses modern identities within the story’s framework to teach the same lesson.

A white lawyer stated “Leviticus 19: 18 in the Bible tells me to ‘love my neighbor as myself’ but the term neighbor implies other whites, correct?”

He was reminded of Leviticus 19: 34 which states ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ Then he was told this story.

A white man, traveling alone, was attacked and robbed by two white men who caused him great physical harm and took all his possessions. Another Caucasian who ran a charity in town assisting drug addicts went by but realizing the injured man did not have a drug problem, went on his way. A white politician from another district came upon the injured man but knowing he could not cast a vote for him because he lived in another district, passed by the man too.

Finally, an older black gentleman came upon Him. The black man had lived through times when he did not enjoy equal rights and this had caused him many difficulties and hardships. The black man knew, however, that Jesus required him (Matthew 6: 14–15) to forgive others if he wanted to be forgiven himself and he couldn’t help but feel a kinship with the man who had been robbed because he had suffered at the hands of others also. The black man stopped and helped even though it took a considerable amount of his own time and money.

The lawyer was asked to summarize the lesson of the story. He replied “the lesson is we can choose to focus on differences or we can choose to focus on what is common between us. And always, we must stand ready to forgive; not letting the things of the past or superficial distinctions put boundaries between us and our fellow man”.

The biblical parable of the Good Samaritan wasn’t told to teach that we should do nice things for others. It is a story which uses an example of doing something nice for another to teach that we should not be racially biased. We should all love others as we love ourselves. God first gave this lesson of forgiveness and seeking common ground to Moses in the Old Testament, Jesus reminded us of this lesson with His parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament and Martin Luther King, Jr. – a preacher of the Gospel – lived a life which taught us this lesson over again in the modern age. I am thankful to all of them for this guidance.

This article was originally published as an Op-Ed piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on January 14, 2015