There is a strange fear which affects those who want to step out and challenge the status quo. But fear of what exactly? Like a hydra, this beast can have many heads; fear of the
unknown, of our own hypocrisy, of damaged careers and social reputations, of being blacklisted, or the fear of gaining a criminal record, imprisonment, or even torture and death? This story strikes a blow to this fear.
I was recently fortunate enough to be working in Palestine and whilst driving along a road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and enjoying its rugged beauty, I experienced a moment of synchronicity. I was there on business, and in the evenings and weekends had managed to finish my summer holiday “read”, ‘The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr’. Not surprisingly, faced with the life of the man, I had been considering this question of how my fears hold me back from speaking out and ‘doing the right thing’. Looking out of the open car window in the October sunshine, it occurred to me that a day or two previously I had been reading King’s own recollection of making the same journey in the car with his wife. That would have been pleasure enough, but then in the book, King goes on to interpret the famous Good Samaritan story as told by Jesus, in which another man is on the same hilly road when he is set upon by thieves and left for dead. The point in Jesus’ story is that he introduces individuals of great reputation to the listeners and has them consider the personal cost of involvement, and then each in turn, deciding to pass by. A Samaritan, (an ‘outsider’ to those listening to his story) eventually steps in and ignoring the personal cost, helps the victim get treatment and pays for his recovery.
So then, in a few sentences, this Civil Rights giant simplified for me this multi-headed beast-of-a-fear conundrum into one simple question.
King noted how those who by passing by on the other side ‘failed’ the test of neighbourliness, because they considered the cost of involvement on themselves, “if I get involved here, what will be the impact on me?”; King’s point is that in Jesus’ story, the Good Samaritan reversed this thinking and radically considered, “if I do not help, what will be the impact on the other”.