One regularly sees on the news a story of a “Good Samaritan,” a innocent bystander who risks harm to himself/herself to rescue a person in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan comprises more theology and application than this, but certainly not less than less.
Here is a story of some “Bad Samaritans.” A man decides to kill himself by jumping into San Francisco Bay. His mother, who for some reason was near, calls 911 and fire fighters show up immediately. But the problem is that they don’t do anything. For an hour. And then the lad drowns.
If you watch the video you’ll see that policy and funding purportedly prevented firefighters and policemen from jumping in to help him.
This is truly a bizarre and sad story where God’s image bearers display scars as well as small cracks where God’s image the light of his image breaks through.
1.) Policy and rules trumped life. Regardless of whether or not such men were allowed to jump in the water to save this drowning man, life always trumps policy. When two commands bump up against each other, the weightier one prevails. Saving life is more important than policy. The Pharisees blasted Jesus for breaking the Sabbath when he healed folks, but Jesus emphasized that life was more important. Even the life of an animal took precedent (Lk 14:5).
2.) The outrage. The anchor man asks the reporter, “Isn’t this a human being?” He has a right to life. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe this. In fact, most non-Christian Atheists believe this as well. They just have no real reason to believe it. In fact they have a reason not to believe it, as it goes against everything Darwinian. Regardless, the image of God shines through the cracks even when people suppress the truth.
3.) Do we get to choose who has the right to be saved and who doesn’t? If you watch the video, one of the excuses is, “This man was trying to kill himself.” That issue is irrelevant. He is still worth saving. In addition, people sing different songs when they are gargling water and vying for their last breaths. He could have had a different outlook on life as he witnessed people risking their lives to save someone who actually tried to end his. All people are worth saving not because of what they contribute but because of their bearing God’s image.
4.) Excuses. Supposedly this won’t happen again because there will be new funding and new policy. In the end though, it might have been more self-preservation than policy. Statements like “he could have been armed” and “he was so big, that we could have drowned as well” started bobbing to the surface.
5.) Judgment. People are rightly angered by this incident, since you can argue that public servants like fire fighters and police officers have a higher civic responsibility. With such authority (guns, sirens, freedom to speed and go through lights), comes a responsibility to sacrifice. But on the other end, none of us know exactly what we would have done put in their shoes. We can certainly pronounce an action (or in-action in this case) to be wrong without pridefully saying “that could never happen to me.” Many times we are spared falling into sin simply because we’ve not had the opportunity.
In the end, this tragic incident serves as a good reminder that this kind of thing happens spiritually in the church all the time. It is always safer and easier to let someone drown in their own sin, even when they are clearly content in doing so. To go in after them can cost pain and time. I personally hate doing it. But perhaps if we considered the mess Jesus took on for us, we’d more regularly enter into the mess of others. Ultimately neither their mess nor ours can hold us under water for long.