The Good Samaritan: A Lesson in Spiritual Numbness?

Ray Bible, death, Good Samaritan, Jesus, parables, scripture 16 Comments

(The following is a re-post of something our “son” wrote on his blog last year – and that I posted at T&S when it occurred and I was guest blogging for a couple of weeks. I was struck immediately by the similarities between his experience and the parable of the Good Samaritan. I cleaned up the language a bit for those who don’t want the full linguistic brunt of his ire on his own blog.)

“Today, I lost my faith in humanity.

Seriously. What is wrong with you #$^@*^#%@ people? Today, I was walking home, and found a dead man on the street.

A dead man.

A &*#^$*^##$*^ DEAD GUY – SHOT FIVE TIMES – FIVE! and left to lie on the sidewalk of a busy, well-traveled (by foot and car) highway overpass. Rigor mortis and mottling had already set in, considering the man was lying in a pool of his own blood.

He appeared to be about 50-60 years old – a homeless man, gutshot on the sidewalk. When I bent over to check his vitals, I noticed about 10 cars drive past me. Not a single person stopped. Not a single person called 911. He’d been there for hours, apparently.

What is wrong with the world? How can you just not care THAT MUCH? I waited about 10 minutes for an ambulance, had the police ask me questions, and everybody just had an air of indifference about them. It was disgusting.

The man had no family – no ID – no way of knowing who he was. Just another unfortunate homeless man, I assume. There was something almost frighteningly beautiful about attending the “funeral” of a man with no name, waiting next to his body in the autumn chill. The epitome of macabre.

Please remember that your lives aren’t the most important thing in the universe. Other people are just as worthwhile as you are. Please remember, before it’s too late.

Before we have another empty funeral.

Before there’s another man with no name.”

What can this modern experience in America teach us about the meanings in the parable of the Good Samaritan?  What does it say about our ability to become spiritually numb?

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Comments 16

  1. I watched a man walk into church on Sunday in a T-shirt and jeans. He sat down in the back. I watched hoping someone walking by would say hi to him.(I was trapped in my bench and worried about making more noise in a ward that already has a reverence problem before church, no excuse). No one did. I saw him get up and walk out and still sat frozen in my seat. It has been haunting me all week.

  2. What a truly sad statement about our human condition. There was recently a video that circulated on the net. It was a clip showing an older gentlemen being hit by a car on a busy street and laying in the middle of the road for quite a while before someone came out to help him. Are we past caring?

    The scriptures are replete to warnings that in the last days there won’t be a lot of compassion. As I get older, I see it in the next generation as the ‘lack of respect’ and the devaluation taking place around us. My parents complained of the same thing.

    Today we hear of 56 people killed by a truck bomb in Iraq. We are bombarded by images of genocide and slaughter in many parts of the world. When one hears of 100,000 dying in an earthquake in China, so our heart hurt or have we become desensitized to the meaning of life?

    Another aspect in thsi question is our lack of desire to ‘get involved.’ We are so tied up in our own agendas, that it takes extra effort to extend kindness to another.
    Or do we do it out of fear?

    Many questions, few answers, even fewer right answers.

  3. You might want to read yesterday’s article “Rise of the ‘walk on by’ society as decent people fear the police”

    I’d include a link, but the last time I did my comment was deleted.

  4. Ray….thanks so much for this Blog. It is really touching. As you all know I can say so much about why I think that society is becoming like this. I do believe that people are good and there is so much that is positive and humanely progressive about our societies.

    However…I think with the rise of neoliberalism ,where nothing matters except for how much money you have, I think this brings people to view human value and human worth monetarily. In this case…in our “hyper capitalist” society this poor man isnt worth much…

    But we know his worth was great in the sight of the Lord…as we all are. Again…this story brings back to me reasons why I feel deeply disenchanted with core aspects of corporate global capitalism.

  5. Cicero, post another comment with the link. I will let it through if it gets caught.

    Rachel, that is sad – truly sad. It also is a WONDERFUL example of “passing by on the other side” of someone who appears to be injured or needs help – spiritually.

    Spektator, that is the thought that hit me as I read Brett’s words the first time – his sense of outrage at the indifference and lack of respect for life. Growing up, I always read the Good Samaritan in the classic fashion – that it was about being neighborly and serving everyone, even one’s natural enemies. It never struck be as such a direct story of indifference and lack of respect – or, as Brett said, a belief that someone else’s LIFE is less important than our **daily activities**. That thought really gives me pause.

  6. Ray, welcome? 🙂

    We talked about this issue in a social psych class I had a few years ago, and I’ll have to find my notes, but there are actually a bunch of interesting factors at play as to why people don’t stop and help. In fact, there are more motivators not to stop than to help. After that lecture I thought what a miracle it is when someone actually stops.

  7. Adam, that is another angle to consider.

    The parable generally is not discussed as an example of the natural man vs. the peculiar people, but it is obvious to me that you are correct. The Good Samaritan stands out specifically because he is relatively rare – because the average person probably doesn’t view helping the marginalized wounded man (and all the risks associated with that help) as more important than whatever they are doing at the time. I think I still see this as evidence of spiritual numbness, but it’s an interesting take on that numbness as the natural default, with a purer, more feeling heart as the exalted standard for which we should be striving.

  8. The plight of the homeless is very sad, and even worse because so many are mentally ill and untreated or refuse treatment in some cases. I often give money to the homeless guys I see on the way to work, but I wonder how much I have really helped them when what they need is more than just a $10 bill, and yet I feel ill equipped to really help.

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    I have been reading amri’s post over on BCC about her experience in Iquitos, and it only now struck me, Hawkgrrrl, that you just nailed the heart of the giving involved in the Good Samaritan – and in Brett’s experience. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

    Brett was able to give this man what he needed specifically because it did not involve money. Brett is a college student, so all he had to give was his time. That is what this man needed – someone to stop and take the time to make sure he was buried with someone to stand there and “see him off” as a human being. Brett could not have provided what the Good Samaritan did, since Brett doesn’t have the ability to provide the transportation and money the beaten man needed.

    Our efforts to “give” generally are centered on what we have that is easy to give – like a few dollars to a homeless person on the street. However, that money is NOT what the homeless really need. Therefore, our acts are a token of our concern, but they generally are not efficacious – they are, in essence, in vain. That causes our frustration – knowing our concern is not being translated in truly valuable help.

    The more I consider this, the more I am inclined to lean toward picking a charity that I believe can have an actual impact financially and focus my own efforts on those like Brett’s for the living – providing my time in ways that I know will be efficacious – that really have a change of long-term and lasting help.

  10. Not at all on par with the example in Ray’s post, but my assistant was late to breakfast last week because she saw another car nick a desert tortoise on the freeway, and she stopped to take it to the vet. Heart of gold, that one. She said there were 4 or 5 other cars that just drove right past it. I admired her care for this helpless creature that was damaged by the hazards of our encroaching civilization, but I can honestly say, I really don’t think I would have ever taken a damaged wild turtle to the vet.

    For totally different reasons, I would be hesitant to get out of my car and approach the homeless people I’ve seen next to the freeway. Most of them are just not in their right mind. I’d be afraid of being shivved. But I do let people in front of me in line at the store without giving them a crusty look if I’m not in a hurry. So, I’m not all bad.

  11. Excellent post Ray

    One of my friends is giving a high council speaking assignment on Sunday on Pride- I forwarded this on to him. It would certainly grab their attention!

  12. #10 Pres. Monson’s daughter gave a talk @BYU-Idaho shortly after he became the Prophet. She told of an experience of a man who was developmentally disabled and many years older than her father. She said all the years she was growing up her father had this disheveled man over doing chores and other things. They would feed him at their table and pay him for work rendered. She said as a young girl she felt uncomfortable with this man at their table but came to appreciated her father’s compassion and love for a man most would pass by and avoid. She said her father stayed close to this man and helped him until he died in his nineties and even spoke at his funeral.

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    #14 – That is a great example, Steve, of doing what we are capable of doing. Thanks.

    #15 – Cicero, I read the link and title and immediately thought of 1 John 4. It is familiar, but it is quite profound in this discussion, especially since I have heard quite a few people argue that fear of the dangers involved in helping others is a justifiable reason for not stopping and helping an unknown stranger. Verse 18 is familiar; it says, in part:

    “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear:”

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