Bonhoeffer and the Good Samaritan

I’ve had a pebble in my boot for several months, ever since seeing on YouTube a Glenn Beck interview of Eric Metaxas, author of a recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Beck began the interview by dismissing “those social justice guys” who think Bonhoeffer is one of them.

Much to my surprise, Metaxas failed to correct Beck and even seemed to agree. The bothersome thing to me was not just the inexcusable ignorance of Metaxas and Beck for not knowing how much of a contribution Bonhoeffer has made to justice issues around the globe, but the more serious dismissal of social justice itself.

One friend explained to me that “social justice” in the eyes of Beck and others like him is just a code-word for “socialism.” The devil must laugh at his victory, getting people to dismiss something which matters deeply to God by twisting words to mean what they in fact do not mean. Social justice in no possible way can be mistaken for socialism. Justice is an ethical issue. Socialism is a political issue.

I’ve been looking again at Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan. A man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus replied. The man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He wants to know the limits of love, to know where he can draw the line and not love any outsiders. Jesus responds by telling a story.

The story is that a man was beaten and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and a Levite, both leading religious leaders, avoided the poor fellow and walked on by. Finally a Samaritan – a despised foreigner – stopped to bind his wounds, get him into town, and pay for his care.

Who was being a neighbor? Notice the reversal: The question was “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus turns it into the more important question of who is acting like a neighbor. Bind the wounds of the needy, whomever they may be.

The real punch to the story is in the identity of the good neighbor, a Samaritan, one of those people despised by the Jews. Jesus is telling the man he must be as good as a Samaritan. What an insult!

There is a double lesson here. First, of course, is that we are to help the needy. Second, we must reject racial categories. This parable is clearly and inescapably a parable about social justice.

Just think of those people in our day who blame others for being poor and needy. They pass by the wounded and condemn them for being wounded. That we have a major political party which includes a great deal of such thinking is sad. Worse, there are many conservative Christians who align themselves with that party and think the same way, quite contrary to Jesus.

Bonhoeffer said that in the face of German persecution of Jews, Christians must call the government to accountability, bind the wounds of the needy, and stop the government from pursuing policies which harm people.

Don’t give me any of Glenn Beck’s silly idea that Bonhoeffer didn’t stand for social justice.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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