I was recently asked a great question: If the Good Samaritan had shown up when the robbers were still beating the man, would he have intervened?
It’s a good question without a simple answer. Yes! No! Maybe? It depends? It’s hard to know for sure since that’s not what happened, but we could make some educated guesses. First, my overall philosophy on how to frame the answer: We look at the life and teachings of Jesus (big surprise, eh?)! But seriously, many theologians, when asked about retaliation or defense in a physical manner, resort to the Old Testament for their answers.
Here’s why that’s a bad idea: While the Old Testament (the Torah, the history books, the books of poetry and the prophets) are inspired and useful, they are mostly stories of what happened. Can we learn from them? Of course. Can we draw principles and lessons for our lives from them – often times, yes. But we have to be careful when quoting from a historical situation from 1 Kings or Ezekiel, that we not impose what happened on our modern context. This is a tricky bit of hermeneutics, but it’s vital to my argument – otherwise we can quote hundreds of verses and stories from the Old Testament to justify in type of violence.
So I stick with Jesus. Sounds obvious, but I’ve found that many of our theological underpinnings come from places other than the life of Christ. In the end, he is our supreme example in all we say, think and do. The rest of the scripture should bolster our points made from his life, but never contradict them.
Enough of the theology lesson – on to the point. (I’m delaying as I think up an answer.)
So, from the life of Jesus do we see:
Jesus ever fighting back?
Jesus ever resisting physically? (Even death)?
Jesus ever encouraging us to fight back?
(Some would say that the disciples had swords [Luke 22:49] and that Jesus didn’t tell them to not carry swords; in fact, he seemed to acknowledge that they did have them and possibly should have them. However, the answer lies shortly afterwards in verse 51 when he says “No more of this,” and in Matthew 26:52-53, when Jesus says “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of Angels?”)
So, while there are some scriptures in the gospels that would require careful study and contextual critique, the overarching image and teaching from the life of Jesus is to “love your enemy” and to not resist violent acts with violence.
Is this practical? Does it work in “real life?” Would the Samaritan have been “successful” if he had simply stood by while the robbers beat the man?
A question to the question: Is anything about following Jesus normal? Successful? Real? Practical? What happened to Jesus because he didn’t fight back – he was killed. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Killed. Gandhi? Killed. Most of the early followers? Killed. Was that practical?
The question I leave for you to consider is this: Have we been fighting to save our lives and live in “peace” and “security” while actually forgetting that we’re called to bear the instrument of death (the cross) and to model a life of dying over living?
P.S. And here’s my answer: If the Samaritan would have stumbled upon this man while he was being beaten, and in faith cried out to God to rescue the man, perhaps God would have. And if not, then the story would have had another ending and a different point. (Not a very satisfying “answer” is it)!?