Yesterday at the Dixon Art Gallery in Memphis, I was especially impressed by a painting from the hand of Jered Small. The Good Samaritan (2012), is a sizeable painting, about 36 x 48 inches, and occupies a place of prominence in the Dixon’s temporary “Ashe to Amen” exhibit: works by Afro-American artists evoking the unique interaction of black Americans with Bible-and-church during their long march from slavery to full participation in the American experience.
The Good Samaritan is a panoramic depiction of a modern urban park — trees, walking paths, spacious green lawns. At its center is a black man lying on one of its paths. He has been severely beaten. A white man is cradling the victim’s head and wiping his wounds with his handkerchief. Elsewhere in the park, people are curiously peering at the two men, walking by hurriedly to avoid involvement, or continuing their pleasant day in the park as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
Among other things the painting said to me were: 1) Good Samaritans are as rare, and as noble, in any age as they were in Jesus’ day (see Luke 10:25-36); 2) The emergencies and crises of others we encounter, particularly those of people unlike ourselves, compel us to choose to act as Good Samaritans or “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32); 3) We must never doubt that, among those we might least expect to be Good Samaritans toward us, there are wonderful people who “love God…and love neighbor as themselves” (Luke 10:27).
Proof? Well, here is one instance. Several years ago, I was driving on I-75 through a section of Cincinnati called Over-the-Rhine. I was rear-ended by a speeding driver. My pickup truck did three or four 360’s and finally came to rest against the median rail. I emerged from my truck dazed and disoriented. The contents of the pickup’s bed, my family’s most treasured possessions, were strewn across the highway over a broad area. Before the police arrived, a white man stepped up to me and said, “Watch out for the blacks (he used the n word), they’ll come down onto the highway and steal all your stuff.” He then climbed into his idling auto and drove away.
Shortly, a big wide-track Pontiac pulled up behind my pickup, and six very large black people got out of the car, five men and a woman. Sure enough, they flagged down oncoming traffic and began gathering up “my stuff.” I was still too dazed — and too scared of those big people — to do anything about it. I just stood by my truck and watched as THEY PICKED UP EVERY OBJECT, EVERY BOOK, EVERY SCRAP THEY COULD FIND AND PUT IT ALL IN MY TRUCK! Then they headed for their car.
As the woman went by me, on the way to the big Pontiac, I grabbed her arm and said, “Lady, I don’t know who you are or how to thank you — but I want you to know I’ll never forget you for this.”
She hugged me and said, “Honey, we don’t care if yooze black, white, or purple — if we can hep you, we gonna do it.”
Ashe! (Nigerian Yoruba) and Amen! (Anglicized Hebrew) for “Let it be so!”