The Story of the Good Samaritan
Thankfully, it was a dry autumn evening. Our patrol hadn’t been that eventful when we came across a man, perhaps in his early sixties, whose hands were bleeding profusely. To our surprise and disappointment, he refused all our offers of first aid. We finally managed to persuade him to take some of our antiseptic wipes and plasters, in case he decided to clean himself up (we later found out that he had in fact self-harmed). As we were reluctantly about to go, he asked us, ‘Why do you guys do what you do?’
We simply told him, ‘Because you’re worth it.’
It was as if a light had been switched on; a smile appeared on his face and a tear in his eye. He made a point of thanking each of us individually and we went away grateful to have perhaps played a part in him realising something of his true worth.
This short story represents in a nutshell why Street Pastors do what they do, because everyone has true worth. This worth is not related to our bank balance, education, correct lifestyle choices and behaviours, heritage or looks. Christians believe the true worth of each one of us lies in the fact that we are made ‘in the image of God’ and bear the stamp of our creator.
Another Street Pastor recounts this story:
One night we noticed a group of about six women standing around something on the ground, and behaving in a greatly agitated manner. They were standing around another woman, their friend, who was lying in the recovery position on the pavement. One woman was kneeling next to her trying to do something to help her.
‘She’s not breathing; I can’t hear her breathing,’ she called out in desperation.
‘She’s going to die,’ another said.
‘Is she dead? Is she dead?’ asked another.
Yet another called out, ‘Somebody do something.’
It seemed like that somebody was going to be me. I quickly shut out thoughts of the awful possible outcomes and resisted the panic rising inside me. All that training… ‘Time to move up a gear,’ I told myself.
‘What’s her name?’ I asked.
‘Becky,’ replied one of the women.
‘Becky, my name is Joe, I’m a Street Pastor, I want to help you. Can you hear me?’ No reply. I tried again; still no reply or any form of response. I tried to hear her breathing, but it was too noisy.
There was a Street Pastor standing next to me. I looked up. ‘Peter, please try to quieten them. I can’t hear a thing. I’m trying to hear if she’s breathing.
There’s still too much noise, the women and the traffic.’
I turned Becky on her back and tried to detect chest movement indicating breathing… nothing. But she was not dead. ‘She has a weak but steady pulse,’ I shouted to anybody who needed to know.
A member of our team called Julie had replaced Peter and was kneeling next to me. ‘Julie, is your phone handy?’ She nodded. ‘Call 999 and ask for an ambulance; tell them she’s not breathing, answer their questions and relay to them what you see.’
For a moment that seemed like minutes, I thought, ‘What do I do now? Is she shamming? Is she sleepy, soporific from the alcohol? Is she just taking time out? Do I give her CPR?’
And then came the realisation – if I did nothing, she might die. I recalled all those weeks of training. Check the mouth for obstructions – nothing there. Check her neck and wrist for a Medi-Alert medallion – nothing.
‘Does anyone know her?’ I asked as loudly as I could. One of the young women came forward. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Sam,’ she replied.
‘Sam, does your friend have any medical conditions you know about?’
‘Does she have a pacemaker?’
‘Not that I know about.’
I decided to start doing CPR. Becky coughed twice, so I stopped compressions, checked her mouth for any obstruction that might have come loose – nothing. She still wasn’t breathing.
I resumed compressions; ‘One-two-three-four-five…’
Becky coughed again, and then groaned aloud, ‘Stop it, that hurts.’ Becky was not only breathing; she was also talking.
‘Phew, I did it. We did it.’
At that moment a paramedic car pulled up and two paramedics got out. I briefed them on what had happened and they gladly took over looking after Becky. After a few minutes, and when Becky seemed to be stable and in the capable care of the paramedics, I asked if we could go. With their permission, the team left the scene and went off into the night, to meet the next unknown of our weekend vigil.
In the preface to the book Faith on the Streets, David Burrowes (Conservative Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate from 2005 to 2017 and Patron of Ascension Trust, the umbrella body for Street Pastors) refers to the story of the Good Samaritan. Both of the above stories share some parts in common with that story. Someone in need was helped by a stranger, who chose not to ignore them. The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known stories that Jesus told:
‘There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
‘A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill – I’ll pay you on my way back.”
‘What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?’
‘The one who treated him kindly,’ the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, ‘Go and do the same.’
In the story, it is the despised Samaritan and not the priest or the Levite (religious person of the day) who chooses to help the man in need. In doing so, the Samaritan acts like a neighbour or friend to the injured man.
The story of the Good Samaritan is allegorical. However, similar true stories no doubt happen all around the world on a regular basis, such as the two at the start of this chapter. Like the title of this book, the story of the Good Samaritan is a story from the streets.
Since Jesus told this story, there have been countless expositions and sermons about it, and it has been interpreted in different ways. Martin Luther King Jnr said of this parable:
On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Now, about 2,000 years after Jesus told this story, the word ‘Samaritan’ has become part of the name of charities, hospitals and clinics around the world. Probably the best known of these in the UK is the organisation Samaritans itself.
Samaritans was founded in 1953 by a vicar who offered counselling to his parishioners, but wanted to do more to help people struggling to cope and possibly contemplating suicide. By the simple act of listening and offering non-judgemental support, Samaritans is able to offer a safe space, so people can talk and be listened to without judgement. The success of this initiative has led to Samaritans now having more than 200 branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Samaritans’ 20,000 volunteers are available at any time for anyone who is struggling to cope. Samaritans currently responds to more than five million requests for help a year, and no doubt has been involved in saving thousands of lives since the charity started.
Another example of the use of the word ‘Samaritan’ by a charity that seeks to help is Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is an international relief and development organisation that started in 1970. Samaritan’s Purse operates in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with offices in the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany and Australia. Samaritan’s Purse is probably best known for Operation Christmas Child. Between 1990 and 2020, shoeboxes full of gifts have been given to more than 178 million children in more than 160 countries via this initiative.
The Good Samaritan story has no doubt been inspirational in the lives of many. For many it provides the inspiration to make the journey from being a person wanting to help others, but not wanting to be potentially corrupted or contaminated by someone in need of help (as the religious people in the story saw it), to someone who gets involved to care and help, realising that, in one sense, all people are our neighbours.
Mother Teresa, an example to many, is perhaps one of the best-known examples of an individual who has been described as a modern-day Good Samaritan. She was someone who genuinely cared for the destitute, irrespective of their background.
A favourite motto of Mother Teresa was, ‘Do small things with great love.’ The ‘small things’ she did so captivated the world that she was given honorary degrees and other awards, was praised by the media and was sought out by dignitaries. Although she had calls on her time from all over the world, she always returned to India, to be with those she loved most – the lonely, abandoned, homeless, disease-ravaged, dying, ‘poorest of the poor’.
Street Pastors was pioneered in London in 2003 by Rev Les Isaac and had small beginnings. On the first night out in April 2003, eighteen volunteers, comprising fifteen women and three men, took to the streets of Brixton. This first night out was just a few months after four teenage girls were shot, two fatally, in Birmingham. Concerns about gun and knife crime were part of the impetus for starting Street Pastors (read Faith on the Streets for more details).
Since this first night, by 2020 more than 12,000 Street and Prayer Pastors have been trained in the UK, who have played an active part in strengthening community life and working for safer streets. Currently (2020), there are 270 active Street Pastors groups in towns and cities around the UK. Additionally, in 2020 Street Pastors are operating in Australia, the Channel Islands (Jersey), Gibraltar, Ireland, Nigeria, the USA and the West Indies (Antigua, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago).
The main role of Street Pastors is summarised as ‘caring, listening and helping’. While Les Isaac may not have been specifically inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan to start Street Pastors, he was responding to need in the same way as the Samaritan did, doing something to help others in need rather than ignoring the issues.
When Christians focus their efforts on issues of social justice, such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, child labour, inadequate labour unions, poor schools and the like, this can be termed ‘the social gospel’. The social gospel as a phrase was first used in the late nineteenth century in America and was then a movement in North American Protestantism, applying Christian ethics to social problems. The social gospel is said to have peaked inthe early part of the twentieth century, but the principles continue to inspire newer movements, such as Christians Against Poverty.
While people see Jesus’ life and concern for the poor, and His teaching, for example in the story of the Good Samaritan, as a clear mandate for social gospel-type action, the social gospel has its critics. In Rev Les Isaac’s book Faith on the Streets, the question is asked, ‘Why do Christians sometimes debate whether “words” or “actions” are more important to the presentation of the message of Jesus?’ One of the concerns raised was, ‘Doesn’t putting emphasis on social action take the edge off preaching the gospel?’
In a Church Times article on the social gospel in 2016, the author commented:
The movement’s mission became detached from its theological core, becoming, in effect, indistinguishable from any other social action. For wholly admirable, if ultimately misguided, reasons, love of neighbour eclipsed love of God. This remains a danger today. If one is not careful, God becomes little more than Good, or, even worse, feel-good.
However, the article’s title was ‘From social action to social liturgy’. The article went on to comment:
The word ‘liturgy’ is commonly understood to mean ‘church worship’, but the New Testament Greek word from which it derives, leitourgia, could be used to mean both priestly service within the Temple, and public charitable activity.
‘Social liturgy’, then, is not simply social action that is devoid of any serious theological formation, nor Christian ‘worship’ that loves God and ignores one’s neighbour. It is, rather, the practice of public commitment to the other that is explicitly rooted in, and shaped by, love of God; working for and ‘being with’ the other while being deliberately God-conscious or priestly.
Interestingly, the article commended the work of Street Pastors by saying, ‘Their presence diffuses tension and aggression in a way that the police find difficult to do.’
Jackie Pullinger, who set up a work in 1966 helping drug addicts and the poor in Hong Kong, gave an interview that was published in Premier Christianity magazine. In this interview, she commented that she had ‘thought that preaching the gospel was explaining how Jesus came to die for your sins and, of course, that’s not preaching the gospel at all’. She went on to explain the reason why she considered this was not the gospel at all: ‘I found out people there were not listening anyway, they were watching to see how I acted, whether I really did love them. And if I really did love them, maybe God did really love them.’