When Nationalism and Self-Righteousness, Surface


“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ Jesus asked.   The lawyer answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’   Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.'”  Luke 10:27

In the wake of ICE raids and cruel incarceration at our borders, Luke’s Gospel provides not a comfortable narrative but a subversive parable – exposing not only the ancient bystander’s unconscious prejudice but in particular our own.    Here is a modern retelling of this timeless classic:

Once there was an elderly woman who needed some groceries at the market in a neighboring town.   Not wanting to take the bus, she called for a cab to come and pick her up at her home.   It was late in the day.

When she arrived at the market, rather than select her items right away – she took a few minutes to sit down and peruse some of the magazine offerings in the front of the store.    It was good to be out and about.

Then taking a grocery cart, she carefully went down the aisles selecting the groceries she needed.    Looking up, she realized it was getting dark.   But she wasn’t concerned.

Only when she opened her purse when stepping into the check-out line, she became alarmed.   Somehow, she must have left both her wallet and cell phone in the cab.    Looking up, she realized everyone around her just wanted to get their shopping done and go home.   But she didn’t know a soul at that store.

Then out of the corner of her eye she saw a minister from a nearby church.  Having just finished purchasing his groceries, she managed to get his attention.    But instead he pointed to his watch.   He was in a hurry, so he turned and left.

She began to grow alarmed.  What to do?   Then she saw a security guard.  The Help Desk had since closed.   Maybe he would help?    But as she approached him, he abruptly shook his head.    Crossing his arms across his chest, he tersely said, “Look lady, my shift is nearly over.   Helping someone I know is one thing, but I haven’t seen you before in my life.”

Tears came to her eyes.  Pushing her grocery cart aside, she made her way to a bench and plopped down.   Over the loud speaker, it was announced that the store would be closing in fifteen minutes.

Turning around, she gazed out into the parking lot.   By now it was dark and the lot was nearly empty.   Clutching her purse, she looked furtively around her.   Tears came to her eyes.  She was alone.

That is until she looked up and saw a woman looking her way.    The woman wore a scarf; only it was also draped around her neck and shoulders.   Her skin was much darker than her own, as were her eyes and the dark hair that peered out from under its covering.   She looked, well, foreign.

The elderly woman put her hand to her mouth.   What would she do if this woman came over to her?    But as if seeing the elder’s distress, the woman clad with the headscarf crossed over – and began walking her way.   Then standing before her and speaking with an accent, she asked, “Do you need help?”

Fumbling with her purse, the elderly woman felt her face grow hot with embarrassment.   This was an unthinkable situation.   But when she looked up and her eyes met that of the stranger, she saw only compassion.   Her shoulders relaxed a bit.

Realizing that the store would be closing shortly and without thinking, she blurted out.   “I left my wallet and cell phone in the cab.”

“Are those the grocery items you need to buy?” the woman asked motioning to the cart beside her.

Without looking up, the elder woman could only nod.

Taking her cart, the woman got into the checkout line.  After purchasing the items, she returned to the bench.    The elder looked up and seeing the bagged groceries, said, “Oh, I don’t have any money…my wallet.   But I want to pay you back.”  Her voice trailed off….

“It’s alright,” the woman said assuredly.   “I don’t drive but I’ll call a cab for you also.  You need to get back home.”

“But, I don’t have my wallet, my money!” the elderly woman protested.   “I can’t pay for it.”

Again, the woman gently reassured her.   “I have a mother your age,” she said.   “Let me help you get back home.”

With that, she offered her arm.   “The store is closing,” she said.   “I’ll wait with you outside for your cab.”   So the elderly woman took her arm and got up from the bench.    She held on to the scarf-clad woman as she deftly steered the grocery cart outside, her own bag of groceries alongside those the woman had bought for her family.

Looking back, the elder woman couldn’t recall how long it took for the cab to come as they waited on the bench in front of the empty and darkened lot.   For the most part, they were silent.    But after a while, her embarrassment and awkwardness gave way to a kind of winsomeness….even wonder.

When the cab arrived, the woman got up and taking the elder’s arm walked with her over to the waiting vehicle.    When the cab driver got out to put the elder’s groceries in the trunk, the scarf-clad woman gave him instructions along with money for the cab drive back home.

No longer afraid or embarrassed, the elder realized that the woman who had helped her – didn’t have a car or ride.   She said, “You have extended such mercy to me, but how will you get safely home?  It’s dark.”

The woman smiled.  Nodding in the direction of an apartment dwelling just adjacent to the market, she said, “I live just over there, with my family.   I’ll be alright.”

But the elder shook her head and nodding in the direction of the cab driver said, “We won’t go until you’re across that parking lot and safely back home.”   Seeing the driver smile, she continued, “I may not ever be able to repay you…but I want to do this.   For you showed me, mercy.”

And then the scarf-clad woman’s entire face lit up.    “You have done likewise,” she smiled.   Then lifting her bag of groceries onto her hip, she turned and walked into the darkness….but now as a neighbor and a friend.


[1]  The painting, “The Good Samaritan” is from the English School, 19th century

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

8 thoughts on “When Nationalism and Self-Righteousness, Surface”

  1. O My Goodness! So profound! Syracuse is a town with so many immigrants and refugees…I’m sure this will touch many. I’ve shared it on FB and directly with my pastor

  2. This is a beautiful contemporary parable . Thank you Jessica for sharing your gifts of compassion, creativity & vision.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. Having benefitted from your own pastoral and prophetic witness, it is a blessing to share one’s gifts – knowing that through God’s grace, they are returned a hundredfold.

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