Robbers, Lawyers, and Neighbors
The Trayvon Martin case highlights our broken desire to justify ourselves.

On Saturday, George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin. On Twitter, people were outraged, mournful, sarcastic, and victorious. "Justice has been declared." "Justice has been mocked." An unarmed boy was killed, his life snuffed out. A man thought shooting a gun might make him safe, but he ruined more lives than he could know. The lawsuit, heavily watched by the media and the world, raised questions about racism, our judicial system, and just how fearful of our neighbors we really are.

What I keep thinking about is this: a lawyer once asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus (like he usually did) turned around and asked a question of his own: "What do you read in the Law?" The lawyer answered correctly, the good student that he was: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus agrees, telling the lawyer, "do this and you will live."

But then the gospel of Luke tells us something important about the lawyer, the one asking the question about eternal life, right living, and pleasing God. In chapter 10, right after Jesus told him he was correct, the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus: "and who is my neighbor?"

Jesus, instead of giving a succinct answer, launched into a parable (like he usually did). This is a famous one, a story that surely most of us could recite if called upon: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the tale of the priest and the Levite, the good and holy people of the Book, passing by a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Later, the poor man is helped by a Samaritan nobody, a shocking thought in that day and age. After he tells the story Jesus asks the lawyer: "which one of these three, do you think, proved to be a good neighbor to the man who fell in among the robbers?" The lawyer replies: "the one who showed him mercy." Jesus, who had no interest in justifications, then put a mighty responsibility on the shoulders of that one lawyer:

Go, and do likewise.

What does this mean for us in our day? The question of who our neighbor is seems more important than ever, as does the spirit of the question itself. The narratives consuming our national consciousness lately have been full of questions of justice: the Zimmerman trial, the Paula Deen debacle, the Bangladesh factory collapse—leave us wondering: what do these events say about our level of complicity in broken systems? About how well we are doing at our task of loving our neighbors?

July 15, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 16 comments

Harold Schulz

July 26, 2013  2:23pm

The Bible also states "Don't Be a Fool!" We are to love our neighbors, but don't IGNORE all of the FACTS that came out during the Trial. Jesus also said: "Render to Ceaser what is Ceasers" or obey the laws of the Land as well as MY Laws.

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July 23, 2013  7:47pm

"...because BOTH suspected the worst of the other, and both made serious errors in judgement on the basis of those false suspicions." And right there...folded into a truncated sentence is what undoes us all in our relationships with each other..."suspect the worst of the other." You called it, V, and probably unwittingly damned every human being on this planet with the charge. We suspect each other, we expect the worst from each other, we damn the other person before they even have a chance to say, "oh hey, wait, no...that's not at all what I'm...please, wait!" No, so much easier to suspect them, to curse them, to crush them, to kill them...or worse, ignore their humanity because it doesn't matter what the other person says, and it doesn't matter what they meant they are the "not-me." They are not my clone, they don't think like me, they don't talk like me, they don't see the world like me, therefore they are not me, so they are the "outsider." And the joke of it all is every language has a word for that person...Gaijin, goyim, Aubenseiter, etranger. Suspect, strange, and intrusive. Every word is measured, every action noted, every twitch of the body remembered for the offense it grew in foul too small, no action good enough, the outsider carries the suspicion of the "me's" wherever they go. "What happened was a tragedy." You treat it as a one time event, V, and it's not...its the tragedy of the "outsider," the "not-me" which happens every day, every year, every decade, every century, every millenia, every epoch. We're human, this tragedy will happen again because we're the makers of it, the designers, the framers, the builders, and for some strange reason...we like the construction process of this...tragedy.

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pastor v

July 23, 2013  2:15pm

Tim, "Saying everyone is to blame frees one from having an agenda? I don't follow that logic." Yeah, I don't follow that logic either. Nor do I follow the logic that you lead you to such a conclusion from what I ACTUALLY wrote: "Anyone who cannot see that there is plenty of blame to go around for both has an agenda to push." I'm NOT saying is that anyone who places the blame on both is free from having an agenda. What I AM saying is that anyone who doesn't recognize that both are to blame clearly does have one, even if at an unconscious level. Zimmerman's action in self-defense may have been justifiable. BUT he would have had no need to have defended himself IF he had not decided to follow Martin. Remember, up until the confrontation, Martin was not doing anything other than simply walking home from a convenience store. Martin did not just see Zimmerman and decide to start beating him up. Zimmerman made the first mistake in deciding to follow someone whom he believed to be a criminal at night, in the dark. Now, was that mistake criminal? No. And I understand why he did so. I understand the history of burglary in that neighborhood at the time. I understand his frustration at the possibility that a criminal might get away. I get all that. But it was a mistake to follow Martin. A foolish mistake. The police were on their way. If Zimmerman had stayed in his car and allowed the police to do their job, there would not have been any need for him to defend himself in the first place! Because Martin would not have confronted Zimmerman, and right now they both would've been living their regular lives. What happened was a tragedy. And it was a tragedy because BOTH suspected the worst of the other, and both made serious errors in judgement on the basis of those false suspicions. I really don't understand why so many seem to have such a vested interest in vindicating one and accusing the other.

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July 23, 2013  12:01am

Pastor v Your suggested profile is a valid alternative. Saying everyone is to blame frees one from having an agenda? I don't follow that logic. Was there more than one criminal action in this situation? According to the law, the best that man can come up with is that the initial injustice is the perpetrator. The self defense action is innocent. Once the initial law breaking occurred (slug to the nose) and progressed to the awareness that his life was short lived if the head pounding on cement continued, a gun was all that was left to end the initiated violence.

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pastor v

July 22, 2013  3:00pm

"Should George have profiled this black man was violent? This is the only profile that would have kept him in his car." Tim, you know what other profile would have kept him in his car? If he had profiled him as a kid who was simply walking home, which is all he was trying to do initially. One the confrontation began, they BOTH made serious errors in judgement that cost one his life, and the other his reputation. Anyone who cannot see that there is plenty of blame to go around for both has an agenda to push. Real life is not a cowboy movie. The good guys don't wear white hats and the bad guys don't wear black hats. Why are we so intent on "simplifying" things, when that is exactly what caused the problem in the first place!

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July 22, 2013  1:01pm

One question that has yet to be answered...why isn't Trayvon Martin given the same right to the "Stand Your Ground" law as George Zimmerman? Both lived in the same neighborhood and belonged there, each was a stranger to the other (and thus, could be seen as a threat to the other), and both responded with violence. As far as we know, Trayvon Martin might have seen Zimmerman's gun, and decided to stand his ground with what he had...physical superiority (since he had no gun). Does "Stand Your Ground" only apply to a guy with a gun? I didn't bring this up to pick a side in this. I only bring it up to present that this is murky business at best, and as Christians, we shouldn't be debating Zimmerman's guilt or innocence, we should be looking at the cultural divide on this and instead of getting defensive, we should HONESTLY be asking WHY do people (on either side) stake out the positions they do, and be sincere in understanding why. And don't give me "why is it okay for them to...etc. etc. etc.?" We are NOT them. We are followers of Christ, and we are to act differently and think differently and NOT say...well they started it.

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July 18, 2013  3:16pm

Dennis "Steve, could we also not argue that Mr. Zimmerman's out of control zeal and profiling of a young man resulted in Mr. Martin's death?" It might also be argued that Zimmerman failed to profile Martin deeply enough to realize Martin might be a man moved to take the first steps of violence and move to merciless life threatening actions inspite of cries for help and no ability to stop the aggression exept for a gun. Should George have profiled this black man was violent? This is the only profile that would have kept him in his car. I think we would all say no to that would not be a fair profile. In view of what happend it could be easily said he did not profile with the expectaion he might be attacked and threatened with death. How can you not see the reality that it was the attack by Martin that brought his life to an end? He would be alive today if it were not for that. Watching someone doesn't do that. It seems to me every human will profile the people around them in thousands of different ways in splits of a second. To suggest we should not do this is irrational in view of the human species. How we profile may be a point worth discussing.

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Dennis Campbeel

July 16, 2013  2:37pm

Steve, could we also not argue that Mr. Zimmerman's out of control zeal and profiling of a young man resulted in Mr. Martin's death? It is simply too easy to assume that there was not lack of judgement on both sides that contributed to this very tragic outcome. Perhaps that is part of the reason so many are not convinced justice was served.

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Teresa Olson

July 16, 2013  1:40pm

I thought this (below) might bring another perspective into the picture, from someone who is not physically strong, and yet, has lived through violent behaviors against herself (me), by the grace of God. Below, is my posted response to another commenter regarding a letter from our county Sheriff, who supports citizens rights to "bear arms" (Jan. 27, 2013). It is followed by a final statement.: "... We simply recognize there are criminals in society and in government, and will always be, as did our nation's Founders, who established our 2nd Amendment protections. Morality or sanity can't be legislated, but, individually and collectively we can work within our Constitutional rights (if upheld) to protect ourselves and others from "enemies within and without" our nation's borders. "Though most of us want to live in peace with one another, there will always be people who are amoral sociopaths, psychotics, and those who think they have a "right" to steal from and harm others (whatever the causes of their perspectives may be). Also, there are those in government (and other areas of society) who believe they have a "right" to dictate to and control others through threatening coercion and/or unrighteous force. "... "So, are you willing to let criminals do what they will always do, without allowing people to protect themselves against them?!" Final comment: In the split-second timing of a frightening and life-threatening situation, a person must do what they must do, as Mr. Zimmerman did. It is tragic that Mr. Martin's out-of-control anger, in this case, resulted in his death. May Christ Jesus be gracious and merciful to both of their eternal souls, as God sees them like no one else can.

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Steve Martin

July 16, 2013  2:09am

The system worked well. All the facts came out and a decision was made that he (Z.) was defending himself in fear of his life. Now...on to the parable of the Good Samaritan. It exposes us ALL...and hopefully, by God's grace, drives us to the cross of Christ where He has had mercy on His murderers (us).

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