But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, 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 while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
There is a great deal of outrage coming from those who, wishing to justify themselves, insist that the political protest slogan “Black Lives Matter” should be replaced with the beauty contestant’s glib assertion that “all lives matter.” It should go without saying, but apparently someone must say it, that “Context Always Matters.” “Black Lives Matter” is a response to the very basic reality that our society believes that black lives matter less than white lives matter. Of course we hardly ever come out and admit that fact. Instead, on a practical level, many deny that there is any such thing as “society” and that we are simply a collection of individuals who each have equal amounts of authority and responsibility over the events of our lives. Those who deny the reality of society cannot help but deny that it places unequal burdens on people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and class. In fact, those who deny society also dislike talking about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and class because those sound suspiciously social. Of course to deny society is to deny the importance of context which is why it bears repeating, “Context Always Matters.”
If there is no such thing as society or social pressures, imbalances, influences and responsibilities, then it makes sense to agree with the beauty contestant that all lives matter. This is right up there with “loving everybody.” If there is no such thing as society, then Jesus should never have mentioned that the good neighbor in the story was a Samaritan. Why not just say that the neighbor was a good person? Surely anyone who helps someone in need is worthy of our praise. Why drag a social identifier into the story? Why do we need to know that it was a he and that he was a Samaritan? We need to know because people living in a society make assumptions about each other and since we cannot know each individual first hand, we make assumptions based on the social group to which the individual belongs.
The original listeners and readers of the parable probably assumed the neighbor was a man. The obvious truth that it was, and unfortunately still is, a man’s world means that in the absence of identifiers, listeners or readers assume that the character is male. Given the context of the story, traveling alone on a dangerous stretch of road, the patriarchal assumptions of the time, the economic realities of the period, the traveler pretty much had to be a man for the story to be believable to the original audience. Hearing that the traveling neighbor was a Samaritan however, would have been shocking, not because he was a traveler but because he acted neighborly. The whole point of the story is that a person from an unexpected group acted in a way that defied the assumptions and expectations of the dominant (Jewish) group.
The parable is told as an answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus could have answered, “everybody” or “all lives matter” but instead he recognized that the answer had to be particular and had to be social and political and had to upset the expectations of the group that held power. The parable was all about context and if we were to subtract the obvious social and political identifiers we would miss the entire point Jesus was making and turn a radical subversive story into a lesson about good manners. In other words, what Jesus was saying is “Samaritan lives matter.”