Bullying: A Theological Reflection

Written by Ann Hanson, Former UCC JWM Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice

The best known parable of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:  29-37, is one that can be considered from many points of view.  Didn’t the ‘man’ realize that the path from Jerusalem to Jericho was fraught with danger?  Who were the ‘robbers’ and what motivated their destructive behavior?  And the priest – what did he learn in seminary?  Why didn’t the Levite, a worker in the temple, have care and compassion in his heart?

Bullying always involves three parties: a bully, a victim, and a witness or witnesses.  We can see these figures in the biblical story. The bully has, of course, already done his work and has left the scene before we arrive to watch. The beaten man in the road is obviously the victim.  In this story the focus is really the behavior of the witnesses.

The Good Samaritan demonstrates several positive traits when he cares for the beaten man. We want to plant these traits into our children’s hearts and minds—to help our children to absorb the truth of these words. The Good Samaritan stops; he cares for the man lying in the road.  The story is an empowering lesson about our responsibility to care for each of our brothers and sisters. It is also a lesson that runs counter to what children may hear and see on the playground, in school, on TV or even at home. 

In this story there are also important lessons about the inaction of those who pass by.   The priest and Levite may be experiencing widely varying feelings when confronted with the man injured along the road. Perhaps one of them feels aversion. Maybe the other fears that a similar tragedy might happen to him if he remains to assist the  man who has been beaten and robbed.  Perhaps in the future one of these passers by will be haunted by knowing he did nothing to help. 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan can be understood as a starting place to expose personal and societal forms of bullying.   Is what we hear on the playground, in the halls of school, what we read on Facebook pages so different than what we see acted out by adults in abusive political statements or from the pulpit, statements of racism, sexism, homophobia?

Jesus asks the lawyer: “Which of the three, the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  The lawyer answers:  “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus says to him, “Go and do likewise.”