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The Good Samaritan, by Theoldule Augustin Ribot

The Good Samaritan, by Theodule Augustin Ribot

“Who is my neighbour?”

This was a question asked by an expert in law, right after Jesus had just finished saying, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

The lawyer’s question was meant to be rhetorical.

Jesus’ answer was meant to get past the red tape of legalese mumbo jumbo.

The story found in Luke 10:25-37 immortalized the then despised if not merely distrusted “Samaritan” – who comes out of this story as a neighbour to the person who had fallen into the hands of thieves – beaten to an inch of his life.

We have come to recognize that being a “good Samaritan” is costly – for even in the original parable – the Samaritan pays the injured man’s room and care, and pays the inconvenience of time both then and upon his return to see how the man is doing.  Costly, yes, but in China where it appears no good deed goes unpunished, there has been a noticeable loss of appetite for paying the price; there has been a shocking level of disinterest in the suffering of others.

Where no good deed goes unpunished

Recently a Good Samaritan who came to a woman’s rescue made headlines in China:

“The video [of the rescue] became national news, against a backdrop of soul-searching over repeated incidences of those in need being ignored. In the most infamous case, a two-year-old girl was hit by a truck and a dozen passersby ignored her as she lay in agony in a busy market.

What follows is arguably even more horrifying: a dozen passersby ignore two-year-old Yueyue as she lies in agony in a busy market in southern China. Several glance at her bloodied body before continuing, while others walk or wheel around it.

Their apparent indifference means that she is hit again by a truck. Surveillance camera footage from the busy wholesale market in Foshan, Guangdong, shows that it takes seven minutes before a woman finally stops to help.”

Horrified Soul Searching

“The young girl’s fate has prompted horrified soul-searching in China since the images were aired on a local television station. The footage has been watched more than 1.5m times on the popular Youku video sharing site.

The widespread reluctance to help strangers has already led to an anguished public debate in the country. Many say they are too scared, blaming extortion attempts by people who have accused Good Samaritans of causing their injuries – and judges who have backed such claims. But some talked of a new moral low after seeing passersby – including a woman holding a small girl by the hand – walk around a two-year-old lying in a pool of blood.

Many internet users expressed fury, describing those who ignored Yueyue as less than human. ‘Where did conscience go … What has happened to the Chinese people?’ wrote one, Reissent1987.”

The Reluctance to Rescue

“The lack of legal protections for good samaritans and a string of extortion cases in which people pretended to be injured have contributed to the general reluctance to come to the rescue.

Those who do so are often asked to pay medical bills or are later sued by those they have helped. In a 2013 a woman named Wang Lan helped an injured elderly woman at a bus stop, brought her to hospital and paid the £25 fee for the consultation. The woman later accused Wang of causing the injury and sued for £5,000.

The problem became so severe that a Chinese insurer began offering policies for those who help elderly people in need, covering legal costs of up to 20,000 yuan (£2,350).

Beijing is drafting a good samaritan law to reduce the risks for those who help, ensuring they will not need to cover medical costs. Shanghai enacted a law last year, but it applies only to those who first call emergency services and follow instructions. There is still no sign of national legislation.”

When bad behaviour is rewarded and good behaviour is punished, what can you expect?

Always Winter and Never Christmas?

Meanwhile at Christmastime, China brought human rights campaigners to trial when foreign observers are least likely to be paying attention. China competes only with Turkey for the most number of imprisoned political prisoners and journalists.

“When the most prominent human rights activists are put on trial during the Christmas period, that’s definitely deliberate,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International. “The government doesn’t want international attention and they don’t want foreign observers, so they go to extreme lengths to avoid international scrutiny of these show trials.”

The loss of human rights and human dignity

I submit there is a connection between the loss of human rights and the loss of common neighbourliness. And I need not pick on China as we enter a post human rights era; what impact will this trend have on common decency?

We need only look to our own apathy or hesitancy to take responsibility, to give costly care when inconvenient, to give common grace for the common good. I don’t write this to sting anyone with fabricated guilt; I write this to sound an ancient tune by the One who made us for Himself.

Human dignity – the inherent worth of personhood – is found first and most profoundly in Christ through whom you are made, and for whose pleasure you journey to find Him – even if you’re not looking for Him at the moment.

When Jesus asks you to be a neighbour – of course it will be costly… but it is more costly to society not to be.

“Who is my neighbour?”

May we answer this with costly courage and faith.