Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Past Tense,” a transporter anomaly accidentally sends Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax back in time to a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, August 30, 2024. The date was significant in the storyline because it was the day before the Bell Riots. “Past Tense” was a two-part episode that has recently garnered more scrutiny by many Star Trek fans because the current season of Star Trek: Picard is also taking place in 2024, this time in mid-April. The DS9 episode received critical acclaim for analyzing U.S. social issues in a science-fiction context and addressing various societal problems such as homelessness, poverty, and technology. Sisko and Bashir find themselves in the Sanctuary District of San Francisco, a section of a city designated for the homeless and financially destitute members of society in the 21st century United States. The U.S. government created the Sanctuary Districts in response to serious social and economic problems that had resulted in an increased rate of poverty and social destitution during the early 21st century. By the early 2020s, every major city in the United States had a sanctuary district. In the wake of the Bell Riots and the senseless deaths of so many people, American public opinion turned against the Sanctuary policy, and the districts were eventually abolished. By the 24th century, the Sanctuary Districts, and with them, the lack of empathy and public apathy toward the plight of the masses was seen as one of the darkest chapters of Earth’s history. The episode’s final lines have Dr. Bashir asking Commander Sisko, “You know, Commander, having seen a little of the 21st century, there is one thing I don’t understand: how could they have let things get so bad?” Sisko responded, “That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer.”
While it is improbable that Sanctuary Districts will ever materialize in our history, a large part of the U.S. population lacks empathy and has a public apathy toward the plight of the masses, especially the poor and those who are seen as different. The current Republican party seems to hate everything considered different: LGBTQ+, those who are not white, the poor and destitute, and individuals with health problems. As long as Republicans can feel like they can look down on others, they believe they elevate themselves, even if the policies of the leaders of the Republican Party harm the majority of Republican voters. They would rather be harmed themselves than have any of their tax dollars going to those who need help or allow laws guaranteeing equality. Most Republicans claim to be Christian, but the people they vote for and the policies they advocate are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
One of Jesus’s most famous (and often misunderstood) parables is that of the Good Samaritan. The parable is told in Luke 10:25-37:
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”
So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.'”
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
As I said, this parable is one of the most well-known and most misunderstood of Jesus’s parables because most people are unaware of its context, i.e., the oppression of the Samaritans and the bitter hatred that Jesus’s listeners and the Samaritans had for each other. Most people saw “Samaritan” as merely a convenient name for that individual when in fact, it stood for “hated outsider who worships falsely and desecrates our religion.” Today, to remedy this missing context, the story is often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known not to interact comfortably. Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit superior moral behavior to individuals of the groups they approve of. One example is Democrats, who advocate for the poor, those who face discrimination, and support universal (or at least more affordable) healthcare, are vilified and hated by Republicans who oppose any such reforms.
Christians have used the Parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of Christianity’s opposition to racial, ethnic, and sectarian prejudice. For example, anti-slavery campaigner William Jay described clergy who ignored slavery as “following the example of the priest and Levite.” Martin Luther King Jr., in his April 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, described the Samaritan as “a man of another race.” Sundee Tucker Frazier saw the Samaritan more specifically as an example of a “mixed-race” person. Klyne Snodgrass wrote: “On the basis of this parable, we must deal with our own racism but must also seek justice for, and offer assistance to, those in need, regardless of the group to which they belong.” I am using it in the context of the LGBTQ+ community.
Who were the Samaritans? The Samaritans claim descent from northern Israelite tribes who the Neo-Assyrian Empire did not deport after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. They believe that Samaritanism is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel during the Babylonian captivity; this belief is held in opposition to Judaism, the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, which Samaritans see as a closely related but altered and amended religion brought back by Judeans returning from captivity in Babylon. Samaritans consider Mount Gerizim near Nablus (biblical Shechem) and not the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to be the holiest place on Earth. If you look at biblical teachings and Jewish religious beliefs before the Babylonian Captivity, they are different. Judaism did not have a sense of Hell before the religion came into contact with the Zoroastrians, who believed in two different afterlife possibilities: one for the good and one for the evil.
Jewish hatred of Samaritans was all-encompassing, much like Republicans for Democrats. Jesus’ target audience, the Jews, hated Samaritans to such a degree that they destroyed the Samaritans’ temple on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans, reciprocally, hated the Jews. Tensions between them were exceptionally high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones. Due to this hatred, some think that the lawyer’s phrase “He who showed mercy on him.” (Luke 10:37) may indicate a reluctance to name the Samaritan. Or, on another, more positive note, it may mean that the lawyer has recognized that both his questions have been answered and now concludes by generally expressing that anyone behaving thus is a “neighbor” eligible to inherit eternal life as described in Leviticus 19:18 which says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
The state of the world around us, whether in the domestic issues at the heart of so many political disputes in the U.S. or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, brings us back to Dr. Bashir’s question, “How could they have let things get so bad?” Democrats and Republicans oppose each other’s policies just because the other thought advocates for them. It doesn’t matter the policy, or if the other side agrees that it would benefit their constituents, they will still refuse to support the policy. For example, Republican Congressmembers went into their home districts and touted how wonderful and helpful the infrastructure bill was that they had voted against. To oppose something just because those who support it are from a different party is bad enough, but it’s even worse when you know that the policy would do a tremendous amount of good, and you oppose it is even worse.
Jesus used a Samaritan when telling the parable because he knew that the Jewish people he was talking to would hate anything a Samaritan did just because they were Samaritan. He told a story of a man who was hurt, and his people passed him by, but his most hated enemy was the one who came to his rescue. Shame is a great motivator, as Jesus was making the point that it should be shameful not to help your fellow human, no matter how you might feel about them, which is why the news is so depressing to me lately. For years, especially recently, it has been happening in Republican-dominated states who are passing harmful laws against LGBTQ+ individuals. The various “Don’t Say Gay Bills” or the transgender discrimination bills are done out of pure hate without thinking about Christian beliefs. They will claim they are doing the Christian thing and protecting the family, but Jesus gave the Greatest Commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus did not say that this only applied to those who believe the same as you. Instead, Jesus asked, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer answered, “He who showed mercy on him.” Notice again that the lawyer refused even to say “the Samaritan.” But Jesus replied to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus commands us to “Go and do likewise.” We aren’t told to love, support, and help others only if they have the same belief or look the same as we do, but He commands us to “Go and do likewise.” Simply and plainly, no caveat, no exceptions or exemptions, just simply “Go and do likewise.” When we look at the world around us and ask, “How could they have let things get so bad?” The answer is that we did not “Go and do likewise.”