Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Samaritan Revisited

Miroslav Volf
Miroslav Volf is a Christian theologian who makes sense. He is committed to the unity and peaceful existence of humankind. I am making an attempt to explain his categories of belongingness and inclusion in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It is natural for one to feel belonged to his/her family and immediate community around. Nearness is what causes belongingness. The more you are in contact with someone, the more belongingness you develop. An individual can develop such contact only with a limited number of people. Thus belongingness is inversely proportional to distance. As distance increases, belongingness decreases.
Belongingness and unbelongingness naturally occur due to the physical distance that separate people. To use a metaphor, my right thumb belongs to its immediate community of my right hand. It does not belong to my left hand. There is nothing good or bad about this situation.
The category of exclusion as defined by Volf is very different from unbelongingness. While belongingness is natural, exclusion is not. It is not physical distance that causes exclusion but mental distance. Exclusion is directly proportional to mental distance. The opposite of exclusion is inclusion. Exclusion is evil; it is destructive. It destroys relationships and makes us fight with one another. Inclusion is good; it is beneficial to human existence.
We often expect belongingness to go along with inclusion, and unbelongingness to go with exclusion. In other words, if someone is physically near to you, you also expect that person to be mentally near to you. But this is not always the case. Two people who live under the same roof or even share the same bed are physically near but may be mentally far apart.
 In the story of the Good Samaritan, the wounded man at the roadside was physically close to the priest who ignored him. They belonged to the same race and community, and they spoke the same language. In spite of this belongingness and physical closeness, the wounded man was mentally far away for the priest. This mental exclusion made the priest ignore him even when he was struggling with death.
The Samaritan on the other hand belonged to a different community. The wounded man and the Samaritan probably shared the same language, but they belonged to two separate religious communities. The wounded man was a Jew, and he worshipped in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans worshipped in Gerisim. In spite of this physical separation and distance, the Samaritan did not have any mental distance with the wounded man. That is what made him willing to help him in time of need.
Jesus projected the Samaritan’s approach and attitude as the ideal. Volf is also doing the same thing. Be like the Samaritan, he is asking us. Though we all belong to diverse cultures and communities, we don’t need to be mentally distant.

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