The title of the episode is Rich + Poor. Based on your own knowledge or experience, do you associate churches more with wealth creation or charitable work? Be assured: any kind of answer is welcome!
1. What are your initial impressions from these clips? Was there anything that surprised you? Was anything unclear?
2. Why do you think the story of the Good Samaritan resonates so strongly with us? Have you ever acted as a Good Samaritan (of sorts), or received care from a Good Samaritan?
Further Thoughts: The clips first provocatively challenge the assumption that charity has always been considered a moral benefit or obligation in society. Initially, the story of the Good Samaritan, and the broader principle of caring for all who cross our paths, challenged the early Christians to establish a food roster that supported thousands of destitute people from a variety of cultural backgrounds: Jews, Samaritans, Greeks and Romans, believers and unbelievers alike. In the early centuries this led the imperial authorities to exempt the church from paying tax, so that they could deploy all their money to maintaining the poor in society. In later eras, as only intimated here, it led to the creation of healthcare and other social goods, provided by churches and Christians. It also changed the prevailing cultural ideas around charity in ways that led to the development of institutional welfare, social security, and the like.
3. Ancient norms were very different from those given to the West by the Bible:
From the Old Testament
From the New Testament
If the Creator of the universe thinks of every human being as his “offspring”—regardless of their capacities or usefulness—what does that say about the intrinsic value of those around us?
1. The first clip had some inspiring ancient examples of Jews and Christians caring for the poor and marginalised in the time of antiquity. And there are several other clips from later times that are available to watch. But the last clip showed an average Australian church getting on with the business of caring for its poorer neighbours without much fuss. It might include the provision of meals or groceries, or perhaps just inclusion in social environments where conversation and care can be found. None of these things seems revolutionary; they are examples of what Francis Spufford described as “applying love in small individual practical ways”. But they nevertheless reveal that modern Christians consider the principle of the Good Samaritan has ongoing application to their lives and the life of their local Christian community.
If the “religious bump” is real, why don’t we hear about it more? And could it actually make you more favourable towards a bunch of Christians moving in down the street?
Further Thoughts: The statistics are revealing. Higher rates of volunteerism and charitable giving cannot be easily dismissed. It doesn’t mean that Christians are better than people who don’t believe, but they might be better than they themselves would be without their Christianity, and the church does seem to bring a positive influence upon society, especially for those on the margins of society.
2. A central issue in Christianity’s tradition of charity is the question of “motivation”: What inspires the Christian practice of caring deeply for those in need? This is one of the most misunderstood features of Christianity today. Many have said that charity motivated by “fear of hell” or “divine reward” is hardly very charitable. But this misunderstands one of the central tenets of biblical faith. The practice of love (for all) is motivated by the love God has already shown to us in Jesus Christ. Consider the passage read earlier:
Here it is clear that God’s love—displayed in Christ’s death on our behalf—is the driver for Christian behaviour. Just a few paragraphs later, the same author (the apostle John) reiterates the point:
Why do you think Christians sometimes have a reputation for believing that their good works—their charity for the poor, and so on—will earn them a place in heaven?
What differences might it make—practically, psychologically, and so on—to believe, in fact, that the charity we show others is inspired not by fear of punishment or hope of reward but by the confidence that God himself already loves us and all those around us?
Charity has not always been universally practiced, or even regarded as a social good. But the early Christians, inspired by their Jewish heritage, had a strong sense of caring for the poor and needy, and they took this into all the world. There is no doubt the church also sometimes failed the ethic of the Good Samaritan. Yet the notion of charity spread beyond the walls of the church and is now seen as a universal obligation. The specifically Christian motivation for charity, however, can sometimes be lost: we are to show love toward those in need because that’s how God has already treated us in sending Jesus Christ to die and rise again for our salvation. Whether or not we accept this theological motivation, this is the intellectual origin of the West’s great love for charity.
Investigate how the example of the early Christians went awry.
See how the idea of the Good Samaritan influenced modern healthcare.
View a story about one Christian’s fight for the working poor in industrialising England.
Learn about one man who literally moved into a leper colony.
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