How are the good Samaritans?

It was not an accident like any other that occurred on the last day of January in a Lower Bavarian community. Four children were on their way to school shortly before eight in the morning. The pedestrian lights switched to green, the children crossed the street. At that moment, a 74-year-old driver turned the corner and recorded the four students between the ages of nine and twelve. After the impact, the driver stopped briefly. Then she drove on.

Fortunately, the students were only slightly injured, and the driver who ran away was found because the children were able to remember the license plate. The woman told the officials that she had driven on because she still wanted to go to church.

Bible text on the Good Samaritan

This excuse is downright disturbing. You don't think about bringing it together, the accident with injured children and the desire of the refugees for a religious retreat - or whatever the woman wanted to do in church. How does that work? First hit children, then pray?

Without knowing the background, one almost has to assume that the driver was confused or mentally impaired in some other way. She had to surrender her driver's license.

The police report is also disturbing because it reminds in a strange way of the biblical story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10: Jesus tells the story of how a man on the way from Jerusalem down to Jericho got among the robbers who plundered him and seriously injured him left lying. A priest passing by saw him and went on, just as a Levite ignored him. Their religious services in the nearby priestly city of Jericho had priority. If the man had been dead, one touch would have profaned the priest. The Levite would have been ritually unclean through contact for seven days, so he would not have been able to perform any religious rituals in Jericho.

Finally a Samaritan saw him, took pity on him, tended his wounds and transported him on his donkey to the hostel, where he paid the landlord the following morning and commissioned him with the further care, combined with the promise of his return and the reimbursement of further costs.

Good Samaritan in the time of Jesus

At the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were considered religious relatives from the former northern empire, but on the other hand they were deeply despised. In the year 9 AD, Samaritans polluted the temple square in Jerusalem during the days of the Passover by scattering human bones, so from a Jewish perspective they could not be neighbors. With the story, Jesus makes it clear that it is not the origin that decides who is next, but the deed.

Jesus tells the example story in a dispute with scribes about what needs to be done to acquire eternal life. He cites the behavior of the Samaritan as an example of the fulfillment of the commandment to love one's neighbor, as it is quoted in the Torah: "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 "(Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 and Leviticus 19:18).

Jesus and the Samaritan: invented and yet real

Jesus made up the story, and yet it was real everyday drama. Visitors to the Holy Land can still hike down the 27-kilometer path from the mountains of Jerusalem to Jericho in the Jordan Valley, a difficult descent of more than 1000 meters through rock faces and gorges, a section of the former main trade route between Africa and Asia. Then as now, the security situation is confusing. It was easy for the robbers, the road was well-trodden.

The psychologist C. Daniel Batson moved this route from Jerusalem to Jericho in 1970 for an experiment on the grounds of Princeton University. On a shabby, lonely and unlit asphalt path between the psychology department and a building for the sociologists, he sent theology students on a journey.

Batson had disguised the experiment. He kept the theologians believing that an investigation into religious education and calling was at stake. They were asked to prepare a three to five minute lecture to be given on tape in the remote sociology building.

On the way there, the unforeseen encounter with the "victim" took place. A man with tousled hair sat hunched up on the cold concrete floor, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his windbreaker, his eyes closed. He coughed and groaned when the subject approached.

During three days, Batson sent 47 students to the sociology building. Not without incident. There was a kind of super-helper among the test subjects: people who just wouldn't let go of the victim until they could tell him about Jesus over a cup of coffee. This messed up the planning, as a new test person had to be sent out every half hour. Others hurried by because the sociologists had a sound engineer waiting for them.

Psychologist C. Daniel Batson traced the route from Jerusalem to Jericho in 1970

Batson varied the requirements for the test subjects. The theology students who were given more than enough time to travel were six times more likely to offer their help than those who were urged to hurry. But the most astonishing result was a different one: whether the people helped or not had nothing to do with whether they were engaged in religious thoughts or not. Some of the students were supposed to give an insignificant lecture in the recording studio about the career prospects of failed pastors. The other part was supposed to preach on the parable of the good Samaritan. Several of them stepped over the victim without stopping.

Batson came to the conclusion that those who are in a hurry are less helpful. He saw the example of Jesus' narration confirmed in the experiment. The priest and the Levite, Batson speculated, were religious officials, "in a hurry with little black books full of meetings and appointments, glancing furtively at their sundials." The Samaritan, on the other hand, was not an important man and had time. Batson also wondered whether those who combine their religiosity with a personal self-interest are less helpful than those who regard religion without ulterior motives as a search for the meaning of their life.

Helpfulness depends on mindfulness

Whether someone helps or not depends less on their religious attitude than on their attentiveness and general openness towards others - and on whether they have time or not, whether they are relaxed or stressed.

For Christians, the story of the good Samaritan remains a thorn: it was not the religiously busy pious who helped the injured. Jesus' message is: It is not belonging to the religious establishment that is decisive for a godly and successful life, but loving interaction with others. The following applies to all people: "What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me" (Matthew 25:40).

And today? The Red Cross, Maltese, Johanniter and Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund are trying to help the injured along the way. The ambulances sometimes race each other to see who can take over first aid and patient transport. Institutionalized charity in competition.

Then where are the edges of our modern society, which has a welfare state, Caritas, Diakonie and an unmanageable number of secular aid organizations?

Who is the pillaged man by the wayside today?

Is it the 69-year-old with a small pension who has to leave his cheap apartment in the new trendy district of Munich after 40 years because the old building is being refurbished by real estate robbers?

Is it a so-called economic refugee from the southern hemisphere, whose country is being exploited by international corporations and who is therefore trying his luck with us?

Or is it the 92-year-old from Dortmund-Kirchhörde who - a real case - entrusted her small fortune to a Commerzbank bank advisor four years ago, who then invested it for a fixed term of 20 years? The retired teacher did not want to read through the 66-page contract in fine print because she had been with Commerzbank for more than six decades. She sees her money again - which she urgently needs for a nurse - at the age of 108. She fell among the robbers at the bank she trusted.

Do we have open eyes and an open heart for these people? Do we have time for you? Do we perceive them, do we approach them? Or will it be strangers again who help those who have been left lying on the roadside?