Bad Samaritans


This Sunday's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary include the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Coincidentally, a news story recently broke concerning a surveillance video of a woman who was stabbed in a Wichita convenience store and then was ignored by the other patrons as she lay there dying. The video revealed that customers stepped over the victim, and one even stopped to take a cell phone picture of her.

When considering how something like that could have happened, the first thing that comes to mind is the Genovese syndrome, identified after the infamous case of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered late one night in 1964 on the streets of New York while her neighbors did little to intervene. Although that event was probably more complicated than it was initially presented by the press, it did point to a phenomenon that can occur when many people are in the vicinity of a person who requires assistance. In that sort of situation, there is often a sense of diffusion of responsibility, in which everyone defers to someone else to act, resulting in no one at all taking responsibility to do anything. That might be part of what happened in the Wichita case, although, quite frankly, what happened in that convenience store went far beyond passive disregard--certainly, stepping over a bleeding person, and taking a picture of the victim with a cell phone camera instead of using that phone to dial 911, seems more like an example of overt callousness.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, it was in response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Of course, everyone is our neighbor, and we are supposed to love our neighbor, which is to say take care of our neighbor in need. Sure, we do get desensitized very easily. One doesn't have to walk past too many homeless people wrapped in blankets in the sidewalk before it becomes just part of the landscape. Nevertheless, a bleeding and dying woman on the floor of a convenience store is not something you see every day. Something there went horribly wrong.

I can't say what was going on in the minds of those customers who stepped over the dying woman. Whether it was neglect due to a sense of diffused responsibility in a group setting, or something more egregious like overt callousness, we can't escape the moral lesson. Tragedies like these can help to remind us that loving one's neighbor is not a responsibility that we can shrug off onto someone else. If we assume that someone else is taking care of our neighbor--metaphorically speaking, if we assume that someone else has already dialed 911--that can easily serve as a cop out, an excuse for us not to act. It may be just plain laziness, but whatever the excuse, everyone succumbing to the same excuse can lead to tragic consequences.


Kay said...

That's horrible, disgusting and inexcusable. I really hoped that it would at least have a "happy" outcome in that the girl survived.

The parable of the Good Samaritan has popped up a couple of times in my reading over the last couple of days. I've been planning to blog about it. This situation only highlights the need for people to really take its message to heart.

Sigh. :(

Cynthia said...

How horrid!

Words fail me...or I might lapse into a sermon.

What the victim's aunt said about one day those who ignored her will have to face God for what they did: I do believe that what goes around, comes around, that we do have to answer in some way for our actions (or non-actions).

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Yes, indeed the Good Samaritan passage is the text for Sunday and I'm preaching on neighborliness, something that is not demonstrated in this story. That people can be so callous is amazing and yet is true.

We are called to be our brothers and sisters keepers, and yet each of us, myself included, so often fail in this regard.

Thanks for the reminder of Jesus' call to be a true neighbor.