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Beyond Sympathy to Solidarity

Jesus calls us to closer and deeper relationships.


In the immediate aftermath of the tragic shooting of nine persons at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the sympathy of the nation and even the world overflowed. However meaningful expressions of sympathy are, they do not produce significant and sustainable change. Sympathy sends you cards and brings you food for a week. But it does not lead into any type of change. If we are to do what really needs to be done, we must move beyond sympathy and into solidarity. Solidarity causes one not simply to look as an observer, but to enter as a participant and agent of change. Solidarity is what caused white men and women along with Jews to travel southward during the summer of 1964 for Freedom Summer. Solidarity is what caused many to converge on Selma and march to Montgomery to place pressure for the Voting Rights Act. Solidarity is what causes one to be willing to take risky action. It promotes sacrifice, the giving up of oneself for the benefit, and promotion of another.

Jesus gives us an example of this in parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is told within the context of a conversation with a Jewish official concerned about eternal life. The answer is to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Trying to find the parameters of the latter clause, the official asks about the identity of the neighbor. Jesus tells the parable. In telling it, he doesn't identify the neighbor. He identifies the one who acts neighborly. He does it in such a way that he demonstrates the difference between sympathy and solidarity.

The Good Samaritan

The story is that of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. We are made to assume that this man is a Jew. He is attacked by robbers, who steal his belongings, strip him of his clothes, beat him, and leave him in the street half dead. A priest comes down the road, sees the man, crosses over to the other side of the street, and keeps walking. A Levite does the same thing. A third person is introduced. It is a Samaritan. With the characterizing this third person as a Samaritan, Jesus invokes the issue of race. Samaritans were people of mixed blood. In fact, the term Samaritan was a pejorative. They were frowned upon by the Orthodox Jews. This Samaritan comes to where the man is, sees him, has pity on him, bandages him, outs him on his own donkey, takes him to an inn, takes care of him there, pays for him to stay there, and insures his continued care by telling the innkeeper that he will take care of any other costs upon his return.

Within this story, Jesus reveals what it means to respond to the moment by going beyond sympathy and into solidarity. All three characters are presented with the same moment. The first two respond one way. The ways that they respond keeps the moment alive. Had either of the first two responded to the moment differently, there wouldn't have been a moment for the third character. The issue would have been handled. The problem would have been solved. But because they responded the way that they did, the moment was present for the third character. Unlike the first two, the third character, the Samaritan exhibited solidarity.

There are several characteristics of solidarity or neighborliness. The first of which is coming close enough to realize what can't be understood from a distance. The particulars of the story are important. The man is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left half-dead. As the priest both the priest and Levite are walking, they see this man from a distance, cross the street, and keep walking. One of the reasons why they do so is that from a distance the half-dead man looks dead. From a distance, the situation looks terminal. From a distance, it looks like a case for the undertaker and not them. Their distance causes them to make a judgment upon which they act. They act off of a perception from a distance. It's not personal or proximal. It's from a distance. With Jesus not giving us the amount of time that elapses between the priest and the Levite, it possible that the Levite watches the priest's actions and just does the same thing. Or, if there was more time between them, the victim could have looked deader from a distance to the Levite than to the priest. What we do know is that both make their judgments from the perspective of distance and not proximity. Neither of them come close to the man. Neither enters the man's neighborhood. Neither checks their distant assumptions with closer examination.

The Samaritan on the other hand walks to where the man is. He does not base his actions on how the man looks from a distance. He comes to where the man is. By coming to where the man is, he sees more than how the man appeared from a distance. He sees the man himself. He sees the man in reality. He realizes what he could not understand at a distance. At a distance, he was prone to make certain judgments. Now that he is where the man is, he sees the man as he is.

Getting close enough for solidarity

God is calling us to move beyond making judgments from a distance and come into knowledge through proximity. There must be the willingness to enter into the space, the neighborhood, the reality, and see things for what they really are, to see people for who they really are, to know the issues for what they really are. It is to refuse to accept the distant judgments of others, but to risk coming close enough to see for yourself.

By coming close enough, the Samaritan saw that the man who looked dead from a distance was only half-dead in reality. His entering the proximity of the man enables him to correctly and properly identify him. By coming close, he recognizes in the man what he knows about himself. While faint, the man is breathing. While weak, the man has a pulse.

Solidarity is coming close enough to recognize in others what you know to be true about yourself. It is to risk coming close enough to recognize that all parents want the same thing for their children. All parents want their children to be educated in safe schools by competent and caring teachers who value them and see them in terms of their potential. All people want to live in safe neighborhoods with neither the fear of crime by criminals nor false assumption of criminality by law enforcement. If you come close, you'll discover that every man wants to be respected as a man, and that every woman wants equal pay for a day's work. If you come close you'll discover that every young person wants a level playing field where the rules apply equally for everybody and where the game doesn't change because of your neighborhood.

From a distance, the half-dead man looked to be dead to the priest and the Levite, causing them to cross the street and keep walking. The fact they crossed the street was not due simply to their being afraid of the man. It was due to their desire to remain ceremonially clean. Levitical law forbade them from coming into contact with that which was dead. They could not enter the place where there is a dead body. Seeing what they believe to be a dead body from a distance, their concerns of ceremonial cleanliness override the concern about the man.

Not so with the Samaritan. Though the man looks dead from a distance, the Samaritan moves closer to the man. His concerns for the man moves him closer. He reveals that solidarity entails being willing to value the life above what your normal excuses would be. The priest and Levite looking from a distance, seeing a man that looks dead, cross the street not wanting to become unclean. The law becomes heir reason for not coming closer to the man. Their concern for their status moves them across the street. The Samaritan moves closer, not worried about his status. His moving closer to the man causes him to see that what others thought would have been an issue to not even be an issue. His valuing what he saw at a distance moved him closer. He moves beyond the normal excuses.

Solidarity is valuing the life in such a way that you overcome the normal excuses to proximity. I don't know them. He's not one of my people. He looks dead. It's not worth the hassle. When you value the person, you are willing to overcome the normal excuses to proximity. You move closer and see the person.

The Samaritan moves closer until he gets to where the man actually is. Now, standing where the man is, he doesn't know where the people who beat the man are. They could be hiding in a bush. They could be around the corner. They could be down the street. It's risky for him to stop where the man is. He takes the risk of looking at the man, of really seeing the man. It's becoming aware. It's seeing into what you're looking at. He sees that the man, while half-dead is also half-alive. In seeing the man, he took pity on the man. He has compassion. He feels for the man. Seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, and knowing what he knows, he determines that he must do something. He can't leave the man in his current condition. The moment calls for him to respond. He moves to the man. He bends down. He gets on the level of the man. He gets some dust on his clothes and some dirt under his nails. He gets some blood on his clothes as he bandages the man and pours oil and wine on him. He puts the man on his own donkey, takes him to an inn, and takes care of him.

He's in solidarity. Solidarity involves taking on the risk of identification and making the sacrifice of privilege and schedule expecting nothing in return. Solidarity is being willing to slow down and actually see another. It is to look beyond appearance and move into actual awareness of the other. It is to be willing to know the other. It is to enter into the field of another's experience and feel them. It is to see as they see, hear as they hear, feel as they feel. It is to risk identifying with the other and to become open in such a way that you are impacted. It is to become vulnerable to the point of being shaken into action. You can't let things remain as they are. You must do something. You must become personally involved.

It's the experience of Henry Dunant, who was born to wealthy parents in Geneva, Switzerland. Growing up in a home of devout Christians who stressed the import of social work, Henry, at the age of 18, joined the Geneva Society for Alms giving. One year later, he and his friends founded the "Thursday Association" which met to study the Bible and help the poor. Later, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA. One evening, while traveling to meet with Emperor Napoleon III, Dunant came across the aftermath of a bloody battle. Some forty thousand men—wounded, dying, and dead lay across the field. Moved with compassion, he put his personal agenda aside and helped the doctors care for the needs of the people. The experience had such an effect upon him that he wrote about it describing the battle, the costs of the battle, the brutality of war and of the need for a neutral organization to provide care to wounded soldiers. This resulted in the Geneva Convention of 1864, with twenty-two nations signing accords acknowledging the neutrality of medical personnel in time of conflict. They chose a red cross on white field for their banner and symbol. Thus the Red Cross was born.

The risks and rewards of solidarity

If we are to be the nation for which God is calling, there must be the solidarity that takes the risk of personal identification and makes the sacrifice of privilege. The Samaritan gives up the privilege of riding on his donkey. By putting the wounded man on the donkey, the Samaritan walks. He adjusts his schedule. True solidarity always comes with a cost. The cost is often the giving up of privilege. It is the willingness to suffer discomfort on behalf of another. It is to bend towards another. It's to get dirty with another. It's to experience delay due to having helped another. You do it expecting nothing in return.

There is nothing about the man that would cause the Samaritan to think that he'll get anything in return. His solidarity is not about career expansion, networking, or resume improvement. There is no expectation of anything in return, no quid pro quo, no IOU. His actions are simply for the man expecting nothing in return.

Solidarity simply seeks the improvement of a situation without looking for or expecting anything in return. The calculus of your actions are not what you'll get from it. It's what you give to it. It's not how it benefits you. It's how you benefit it. It's simply determining that there is something that you can do to make it better. What you get from it is simply knowing that you made it better. Your listening made it better. Your understanding made it better. Your stopping made it better. Your speaking made it better. Your counseling made it better.

The Samaritan does what he can to make it better. The next day, he gives the innkeeper two day's wages, tells him to look after him, and that when he returns he will reimburse him for any extra expense. Bandaging the man's wounds and taking him to the inn would have been enough. It was more than most would do. However, the Samaritan takes it another step. He makes provision for the man's long-term care. He isn't satisfied with the short-term quick fix. He invests in the long-term.

Solidarity includes a commitment to the long-term. Genuine solidarity is not satisfied with the quick fix. Genuine solidarity desires lasting change. Genuine solidarity wants things to be well not just today, not just tomorrow, but also next week, next month, and next year. Authentic solidarity is concerned about the long-term. It invests in the long-term. It makes arrangements for the long-term. Solidarity with a person or a people moves you to raise long-term questions and to seek to provide long-term solutions. It's not just about helping somebody out of a situation. It's about addressing the factors that put them into the situation, giving them a better option than the situation, shutting down the forces that created the situation in the first place. The Samaritan committed himself to the long-term.


With this, Jesus asks the official who was a neighbor to the man who fell victim to the robbers. The official answered the one who had mercy, the one who showed solidarity. Jesus tells the official to go and do likewise.

Jesus says the same to us. In this moment, we are called to respond with solidarity. Go and do likewise. It's not just like the Samaritan. It's also like Jesus. He came in solidarity with us. He did not remain a cosmic spectator and eternal observer. But he, being equal with God, thought not equality with God a thing to be grasped. He made himself nothing, took on the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of humanity. He came into proximity. He came into human flesh. He came as Immanuel (God with us). He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He was at all points tempted like us. Seeing us in our helpless estate, He took the responsibility for our reconciliation. With there being nothing that we could give in return that would add to who he is, he gave it all up on our behalf. He became sin for us. He became the sacrifice for us. He became the offering for us. He died for us all. He paid the price for us all. "Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left its crimson stain, but he washed it white as snow."

Claude Alexander is the Senior Pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The Good Samaritan

II. Getting close enough for solidarity

III. The risks and rewards of solidarity