Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a fundamental right of the American justice system. A person is presumed innocent until the prosecution can prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a “reasonable person.” This right was exercised in the George Zimmerman trial, and he was acquitted. This right was not extended to Trayvon Martin when he entered that neighborhood on that tragic night.
The lectionary gospel passage for Sunday, July 14, was the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a story where innocence is not presumed, nor any reasonable doubt exercised. The man lying by the side of the road must be guilty of something, or why else would he be traveling that road alone. The priest and the Levite have reasonable doubts that their colleagues will believe their story that helping a dying man is a higher calling. The Samaritan—who should be seen as suspicious—is in fact the hero.
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is everyone in need. That neighborhood includes both the Trayvon Martins and the George Zimmermans of this world. It would be a reasonable doubt for African American parents to believe that their sons will be seen as anything but suspicious Samaritans. Many centuries later, there is a reasonable doubt that we are any closer to the vision of the world of peace and justice that God has for us. There is no doubt, however, that we are still called to make that world happen with our neighbors. All of them.