An Alternative Reading: The Gay Samaritan

February 8, 2007

I’m currently reading Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology, by Richard Cleaver.  I have referred in several comments and posts over the past several days to our distinct lens for reading scripture as a gay and lesbian people.  I am holding up Cleaver’s example as such a topic.  The Samaritan parable, held up by Jesus as a parable of “Who is our neighbor?,” so often is interpreted by the established institutions as a parable focused on the injured traveler, as Cleaver points out.  Of course, if we examine our history and look through the lens of the time, that was not the point.  The point was to focus on the Samaritan– someone who had a completely different take on religion than did the Jerusalem religious establishment.  The injured traveler was only a tool of the parable to demonstrate the importance of action rather than doctrine.  Read on!  (from pp. 5-7 of the book).

A traveler was going from Jerusalem to Jericho when some muggers attacked him.  They not only took his money, they took his dignity too:  they beat him up and stole his clothes, then ran away, leaving him half-dead in the gutter.

Soon a bishop came by.  He was on his way home after going to Jerusalem to pick up a car given to him by a Cadillac dealer there, who was one of the biggest financial supporters of the diocese.  The car rode beautifully, and the bishop particularly appreciated the cream-colored glove-leather upholstery.  A little luxurious, perhaps, but after all (the bishop was thinking as he took the curve just beyond Bethany), good quality wears better than shoddy goods.  In the long run, what looks like luxury is prudence.

Just beyond the curve, where the road descends to the Jordan Valley, he noticed something piled beside the road.  “Litterbugs” was his first thought, but when he got closer, he could see it was a body.  He slowed to see more, wondering if he should stop, and noticed that whoever it was had been beaten and was bleeding.  He didn’t really want blood all over the interior of his new car, but somehow that seemed like a petty reason not to stop.  Then he realized that the person was naked.  That settled it; it would never do for a bishop to be seen with a naked person in his car.  Think of the scandal!  Preserving the good name of the church was more important than any passing act of charity, especially in times when the institution was under attack from wild, semi-educated preachers from the backwoods– and trying to keep the goodwill of the colonial administration, too.  Anyway, this was a job for the social service professionals.  Their agencies got a lot of funding from the diocese.  It wasn’t as if the bishop weren’t helping indirectly.  He drove on.

Fortunately, this being a main route for travelers, it wasn’t more than a quarter hour before another car came along.  It was driven by a prominent layman, active in the local church and in an organization devoted to restoring religious values to a community that needed them desparately during a period of moral decay and spiritual uncertainty.  Noticing what looked like a body beside the road, he too slowed down to find out more.  The body, which was bloody and naked, wasn’t moving– for by now the mugged traveler had fainted.

The layman, like the bishop, wondered if he should stop and do something.  After all, he was someone concerned about his community, not just a person caught up in his own well-being.  This might prove an opening to evangelize this poor soul, who, judging from his naked condition, undoubtedly knew not the Lord.  But when the person still didn’t move, the layman began to have second thoughts.  What if the man was already dead?  The police would involve him in all kinds of legal red tape.  He didn’t have time for that; he had more important work.  And what if the man lived but sued the layman afterward, claiming he was liable for something or other that happened on the way to the hospital?  you couldn’t be too careful.  Besides, why wasn’t the man wearing anything?  Robbers don’t steal people’s clothes.  This guy must have done something to provoke the beating.  Probably made some kind of disgusting proposition to the wrong person, a healthy if hotheaded young football player perhaps, who did what any man would do in response to a filthy suggestion.  Overreacted, of course, but boys will be boys.  This guy must have deserved what he got.  A God-fearing layman like himself couldn’t be going around with low-life scum; it would drag the reputation of his lay ministry through the mud.

The promoter of religious values drove on, too.  This time it was only a few minutes before the next person happened by.

A certain gay man was returning home after having been summoned to his head office in Jerusalem.  He had been fired because of a rumor that he was gay.  As he drove, he wondered if he should have denied the rumor.  No, he decided, it wouldn’t have done any good.  The truth would have come out anyway, when he went into court to testify against the gay-basher who had beaten his lover to death last month.  Unconsciously he rubbed the dent in his own skull left by a similar incident he had suffered three years previously.

Suddenly he noticed what looked like a body beside the road.  Stopping the car, he jumped out and rushed to look.  A naked man, covered with blood and bruises.  They looked a lot like the ones he had seen on Adam’s body when he had found him in the alley outside their building.  Obviously, this man too had been mugged, and judging from the fact that the muggers took all his clothes, the gay man figured it couldn’t have been a simple robbery.  He felt for a pulse: the man was still alive.  Adam had not been; there had been nothing left to do for him.  He was being given a chance to make up now for his helplessness then.

He rushed back to his car, returned with the first-aid kit, and did what was needed to transport the man safely.  Then he drove him to the nearest emergency room.  Because the man had no clothes and there was no way the admissions clerk could tell whether he had insurance, the gay man wrote a blank check to the hospital and promised to come back the next day to clear up whatever else might need to be taken care of.

Later, the newspapers got hold of the story and came to interview him.  The bishop read the story and called a press conference, at which he announced that the diocese was giving its Good Samaritan Award to the man who had helped the mugging victim he himself had driven past.

At the award banquet, held at the episcopal palace, the bishop stood with his arm around the Good Samaritan and gave a little homily about showing mercy to our neighbor in distress.  This act, he conclude, showed a true Christian spirit.  He turned to the man and shook his hand, adding, “God will bless you abundantly for this.”

“Oh, I didn’t do it for religious reasons.  It just seemed like the human thing to do.  I haven’t been to church since my priest refused me absolution when I confessed I was in love with the redheaded guy who was captain of the wrestling team.”  The gay man smiled at the cameras.

The bishop was trying to figure out how to deal with the question he knew was coming next.

A little dramatic, perhaps, but the point is that we do not have to take the interpretations handed down to us from the established institutions that do not understand how we ourselves are different.  It is up to us to claim our identity and develop our own interpretation, regarding the interpretation of the establishment with suspicion.  This is called, in liberation theology, a “hermeneutic of suspicion,”  and is common especially among ethnic minorities such as Mexican immigrants and African-Americans.



One Response to “An Alternative Reading: The Gay Samaritan”

  1. Mike Says:

    neat story!

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