The good Samaritan story is so famous that I really don’t need to repeat it. A w file back, I saw a sign (from the Facebook page Blue Street Journal) that says, “Privilege is a problem when you don’t think something is a problem because it is a not problem to you PERSONALLY.” Nothing comes clearer than when I point out the problem of racism (let’s call it a blind spot) in the rhetoric of a white evangelical leader and immediately I get called a racist for pointing that part out.
I read the funny sign in conjunction with a blog that says the Asian-Americans overreacted against the Deadly Viper book, a book Zondervan yanked due to racist stereotype. The same blogger who is obviously white congratulates the writer Mike Foster for moving on from that drama to launch a successful speaking circuit on that exact topic, not so much about racial reparation but about how the writer feels that he’s a victim by AA Christians’ campaign and how Christians are People of Second Chances. Then, I read further about Mark Driscoll’s recent emergent (notice I threw that word in there) with Hillsong who paints himself as a victim of hate campaign against him so soon after his disgraceful departure from the mess he found called Mars Hill. One common bond between these narrative is the rhetorical victim switching. Victim switching in a society of narcissism is big business for speaking opportunities if you’re famous. The failure of all these people is the inability to see things from those whom they’ve wronged. Surely, the backlash is harsh. I don’t believe anyone should call up Driscoll to threaten him or his family. Neither should people threaten Mike Foster and all the rest of the insensitive crew who helped produce that awful spiritual book called Deadly Viper. But let’s face it, you aren’t really being persecuted when you’re making millions of dollars from your mistake. A few angry words aren’t hurting any of these men’s bank accounts.
The Good Samaritan story deserves a closer look because many modern privileged people don’t understand it. As a result, they also don’t practice it. The question that prompted Jesus to tell the story was from an expert of the law who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The story frequently gets interpreted in only one way: be a neighbor to another person. Surely, this is a decent reading, but we fail to grasp the full significance in the story in several ways. Jesus was answering a person of privilege in his society. Jesus was also answering the question about the identity of the neighbor. Who then experienced the answer to “Who is my neighbor?” It was the victim of the robbery. He was the only person who could tell who the neighbor was. Here’s the thing. We often miss the ironic twist of Jesus because he was telling the law teacher who was privileged to stoop down just a bit not so much to relate to the powerful religious teachers who passed by but to relate to the powerless victim who experienced the kindness of the “other”, the Samaritan.
The dire failure in our society AND in our churches is our inability to relate to the point of view of the other. As a result, we also fail to identity who our true neighbor is. Instead, we like to think of our true neighbors as those who agree with our convictions and share our same background (whether that background is race, gender or social economic class). Those who share our background is no more a neighbor as the religious leaders to the injured man. Instead, in a surprising and subversive twist, Jesus stated that the true neighbor was the Samaritan who had nothing in common with the injured man (presumably a Jew coming out of Jerusalem. Who else would be coming out of Jerusalem). If our faith community leaders also want to use their privileged position to do victim switching in order to further their own agenda, they’re no better than those who walked by the injured man. At most, they suffer minor damage due to their own stupidity. A minor setback in reputation (with no sincere apology) and a little lost book revenue are nothing in comparison to the systemic prejudice that existed within the system they lead. This is the modern failure to read Jesus’ parable properly and follow Jesus command precisely.
Make no mistake about it. When we look at the cases I just talked about, these people are privileged. Mike Foster and his white blogger who supported him are privileged because of their skin color. Why are they privileged? Instead of letting their repentance sink in, they can take their trespasses against the Asian American brothers and sisters and turn them into their business of speaking tour and a book called Freeway. Driscoll is privileged simply because he’s got a worldwide audience and sold books as well as built a speaking circuit for millions of dollars of profit. Anyone who can turn his trespasses and not repent but instead turn them into another money-making opportunity is privileged. Privilege is when you can afford not to see stuff from the other side of the coin and everything would still be fine and profitable. Jesus was talking to a privileged person when he spoke about the Good Samaritan. That’s the aspect many interpreters fail to grasp. Perhaps, Jesus’ admonition to the teacher of the law needs a renewed look for the modern privileged because Jesus was saying that as a privileged person, he couldn’t afford not to see things from a victim’s point of view unless he wanted to skip over who he real neighbor was, the Samaritan. Privilege is a problem when you don’t think something is a problem because it is a not problem to you PERSONALLY.