The Best Samaritan

The Best Samaritan

No story is more relevant to our coronavirus times than that of the Good Samaritan. You do not have to be an economist to see the financial devastation that this disease is imposing on the world. You do not have to be religious to appreciate what lockdown means to the poor. High earning, high living countries are falling to the tortuous impositions of the virus as innocent sheep fall to a pack of ravening wolves.

Now the virus is starting to reach the poorer countries. Even the statistics will be unreliable there, let alone the medical infrastructure. Suffering and loss of life will be way beyond what we have imagined so far. For many, those are peoples in distant lands often thought to be beyond the reach of the West’s civilisation. Their lives are different, we sometimes think. They are used to suffering.

For some of us these people are closer than we at first imagine. They inhabit the same world as us when they are helping us. We give them access to the same standards of culinary and medical care. They learn from us, both good and bad things. Their education is our chatter, their relaxation, our humour. Some of their life is almost high living or close to it. But back in their own countries it is a very different story. There, lockdown means potential starvation, threats of robbery by desperate neighbours, extended families to feed, sickness to support.

A culture of giving has spread gradually through those who see poverty at first hand. It is always welcome, often generous. It flexes to deal with the vicissitudes of the beneficiaries. It is a wonderful and thoughtful generosity. Now this culture is faced with something unprecedented, something so outside our experience that we realise that our normal generosity doesn’t satisfy it but we don’t know what should be expected of us.

The answer is ‘only what we expect of ourselves’. No external advisory can tell us. No neighbourly hint can provide the right answer. No government committee can command what is right for us to give, nor when, nor how to do so. In any case, the same sum will not be right for every person or household. In any case, the same occasion won’t suit every home. The Good Samaritan found his vocation by the side of the road. You may find yours huddled in tears over WhatsApp.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to define her giving in a most unusual way. When asked how many people she had helped she would reply “I help the one in my arms”. None of us has to look far to see the person in need. They are ‘the one in our arms’.

This is no plea for money. Plenty of organisations and individuals are doing a thoroughly worthy job of that. This is a call to thought. Thought of the best way, the most effective way, the most suitable way to make the story of the Good Samaritan live in 2020.

So that later generations may say

“They weren’t just Good Samaritans, they were the Best Samaritans”.

It will be the greatest reward we can ever have.