By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published August 6, 2015 | En Español
A picture is worth a thousand words, according to one very popular adage. I can vividly recall, and perhaps many of you do as well, a very touching photo taken during the height of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, of a young white man cuddling a sleeping African-American toddler. The little girl was fast asleep in his arms, and he was the very soul of compassion with this youngster. The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran that picture taken by the photographer W.A. Bridges Jr. as a prominent and unforgettable expression of the goodness of people, the importance of our interdependence during such moments of crisis, and the tenderness that even that extraordinary disaster managed to produce in the lives of people not only directly impacted by that tragedy but all of us who were touched by that event.
Another equally poignant photograph has now been widely disseminated on the Internet capturing an African-American officer assisting a white man who was obviously physically overcome by the heat of the day as he was participating in a Klan-sponsored protest at the South Carolina Capitol. The officer in his uniform helping another man wearing a shirt with a racist symbol captured the imagination and attention of our nation. It spoke volumes about how we are supposed to treat others—even those who don’t love us, whom the world would consider as our enemies.
Both photos invite us all to step back from the vicious dialogues and brutal images that so fill the airwaves and Internet. Both pictures ask us to reevaluate who we are and who we are supposed to be.
While these few pictures capture us at our best, there are far too many images that capture us at our very worst—and unfortunately the latter ones always do seem to get so much more exposure—to the point of almost totally eclipsing the more positive and constructive moments of our humanity. While the governing laws of media and social communication might well propose that “if it bleeds, it leads” there are more than a few outstanding examples of “people behaving correctly.” We now apparently accept the more common images of violence and hatred as the source of our information, and they can exert far more influence on our opinions and attitudes—too bad!
We all need to know the truth and to have access to honest and accurate journalism. We cannot and must never deny the presence and the evil of injustice and hatred and bigotry—but is there no counterbalance to the awful things that happen in our world? Do we not need the examples of excellence in human living to guide and inspire us as well as the images of depravity to alert and admonish us?
Jesus did not have access to our methods of social communication that we now take for granted. There was no Internet, no tweets, Instagram, or Facebook available to him. He simply told life-changing stories—parables to paint pictures that captured the hearts of his disciples.
We don’t have an actual picture of the Good Samaritan, but we have the amazing mental image of an individual who was counter-cultural in the most fundamental way of loving even those who didn’t fit the categories of those he was expected and presumed to love. Like the pictures I referenced from Katrina or South Carolina, the Good Samaritan ran counter to the norms of his world. And for 2,000 years, people of faith have had this image available to us to shape our behavior and moral vision.
The Good Samaritan today finds a face in a young white college student embracing a sleeping African-American toddler and in a black first-responder assisting a man who was promoting hatred of people of color. Maybe Jesus didn’t need Facebook to put a face on the Good Samaritans who live in our world today. We can give them a face if we look carefully enough to find them.