Joel Elliott Mooneyhan
The Good Enemy
The parable of the Good Samaritan is much more subversive than most people realize. The lesson that often repeated from it is one of being a good a person and helping someone in need, even if it comes at great expense to yourself, an even if you don’t necessarily like that person. But it carries much more weight than even that.
When Jesus told that story, it was not long after he and his disciples had been run out of a Samaritan village. When it happened, two of his disciples, James and John, asked if Jesus wanted them to call down fire on the village to destroy it. Jesus rebuked them, because duh.
The Jews and the Samaritans hate each other. Think of the way a Trump supporter and a registered Democrat might not get along, and then amplify that times about a thousand. Or just take a look at the Middle East. That type of conflict has been going on for centuries.
So when Jesus tells a parable in which the one who shows compassion is the nominal enemy of his audience, it does two things. One, it puts our imaginations in a place to have to think what it would be like to have a person who we hate, or whose ideology we abhor, who votes in a way contrary to our worldview—for that person to help us in our time of need, when even those we would assume to be our friends have turned away.
Imagine finding out that the person who helped you when you were at your lowest was from a group of people whom you generalize as ignorant, or foolish, or wicked. There’s a tinge of shame that comes with that. And it should be humbling.
The second thing he does is to ask the question: Who was the most like a neighbor in this story? Answer: the one who showed compassion; that is, the one who I thought was my enemy who actually helped me. And then he says, “Go and do likewise.” In other words, go and be the kind of person who makes enemies disappear because you refuse to let the barriers between you get in the way of compassion, empathy, and generally not being a jerk.
If Jesus were here today, hanging out at the first DNC debate, he might have told a story in which a woman in a MAGA hat helped out someone who was mugged in Chicago. Conversely, if he were at a rally for Donald Trump, he might take the stage to tell a story of a man who was trying to decide which Democrat to vote for in the next election, coming to the aid of someone who was attacked in the Bible Belt. And then he’d tell everyone to do the same.
We like having enemies, in a general sense. There is a comfort in painting ourselves and our like-minded brothers and sisters as the heroes, fighting the evils of all those who don’t talk like we do, who don’t vote like we do, who just don’t seem to be on the same page as us, and shame on them. We like having straw men to attack, and then feel validated when we read or hear about anyone from the other side of the line misbehaving. We love the idea that we are right, someone else is wrong, and we relish any opportunity to show them they are wrong.
Christians as much as anyone else are guilty of this. I certainly am.
But Jesus disagrees with this mindset. He rebukes it every time he confronts it. So just keep it in mind while you’re discussing the circus that you think the first Democratic Primary Debate was, or how jingoistic you believe the Independence Day celebration in D.C. was, or any other time you’re acting smug and superior about anyone who, by the way you speak of them, you reveal as the object of your secret hatred.
Refuse, at every point you can, to allow anyone to be your enemy.