Wednesday 8 March 2006

Who is my neighbour?

Here in Brisbane last week, there was a shocking contemporary version of the Good Samaritan parable—except that in this case, there was no Good Samaritan to lend a hand.

A 62-year-old woman, Delmae Barton, collapsed with a stroke at a busy university bus stop. She lay vomiting on the ground beside the bus stop, passing in and out of consciousness, while people walked past and ignored her—for five hours. (See the news report here.)

The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” It seems this woman had no neighbour. None except the crucified Christ, who is himself the friend and neighbour of all those whom the world forgets.


Anonymous said...

That's terrible! It reminds me of this story I found on a blog recently:

The Bad Samaritan

revdrron said...

I don't get it... how could such a thing happen? I mean you wouldn't have to be a Christian to give little care. Please explain!

Gotta serve somebody, ron

Ben Myers said...

Hi Ron. "How could such a thing happen?" -- I think that's the question everyone here is asking too.

Joanna said...

I think the whole situation becomes a lot clearer when you notice that Delmae Barton is an indigenous woman. If she was a white woman, I imagine people would have been much more likely to stop and help. Everyone just assumed she was drunk. It's disgraceful at so many levels, and yet almost entirely predictable in the light of Australian prejudices.

Jim said...

How did it happen? Two words. Human Depravity. That's how it always happens.

T.B. Vick said...

I'm totally stunned that anyone - Christian or non-Christian could EVER allow such a thing to happen!

Anonymous said...


I've been reading your blog for awhile now but I don't think I've commented yet (I came here via Chris Tilling).

I have spent several years journeying with people on the margins of society and, although the story you mention is terribly sad, it is not surprising.

In the cities where I am from (Toronto and Vancouver, Canada) people are regularly lying/sleeping/puking/bleeding/whatever on the street and -- even in the heart of winter -- nobody thinks twice about keeping a safe distance and keeping one's feet moving.

I am glad to see that other readers of this blog are dismayed and I can only hope that they would then respond differently to anybody they might see lying on the sidewalk. Sadly I am far too accustomed to hearing Christians express outrage about certain tragedies, while simultaneously doing little or nothing to address the fact that such tragedies are an ongoing and daily event.

Grace and peace.

Guy Davies said...

There are some Good Samaritans out there. On a recent shopping trip we stopped at traffic lights and noticed that an elderly man had collaped by his car. A woman was hepling him and my wife jumped out of our car to lend a hand while I found somewhere to park. A one point, the man lost consciouness and stopped breathing. He had to be revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Staff from a nearby shop phoned an ambulance and paramedics arrived at the scene in minutes. Were it not for these Good Samaritans, the poor chap would almost certainly have died.

People do not always pass by on the other side.

Guy Davies

Anonymous said...

With all posters I wring my hands in despair at the inhuman indifference shown by passers-by to Delmae Barton. But let's not forget the real double-sting in the tail of the parable as originally told by Jesus: its critique of the privileging of the religiously orthodox (the priest and the levite) as agents of compassionate action, and, conversely, its valorising of the heterodox, the other, indeed the enemy (the Samaritan) as the agent of compassionate action - to me! Jobloggs' reference to "Australian prejudices" is thus perhaps the theologically salient point about the incident.

Chris Petersen said...

Perhaps you should say, "crucified and risen Christ."

Joanna said...

I would add that I think we are missing the real outrage and political implications of this situation if we simply see it as a sign of our society's lack of compassion or connectedness. How do you think indigenous Australians read this story? People are almost always compassionate within certain boundaries, which are usually culturally constructed. This incident shows what some of those boundaries are. Jesus, of course, calls us to demolish those boundaries in our own minds and hearts and then act upon that. As Dan points out, most of us don't get quite so far as constructive action. Plenty of 'Samaritans' do.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, I think Dan is exactly right. The easiest response to this incident would be one of mere moral outrage -- the kind of outrage which is really a disguised form of self-justification, and which does not involve any positive action. It is good to feel outrage and disgrace, but it is even better to decide to act.

stc said...

Many years ago, in Toronto, Canada, I was impressed by a bus driver who stopped the bus to check on someone passed out on the side of the road.

The man turned out to be drunk, not ill. But I was impressed that the bus driver didn't assume that, and didn't worry about sticking to his schedule.

Dan is right about how many people live on the streets in Toronto and Vancouver. I can only assume that a bus driver passes a lot of them — and yet this guy cared enough to stop.

We're always confronting those two sides of human nature, the ugly and the beautiful.

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