The heroism of the murdered Good Samaritan proves society needs both justice and compassion

This tragic story of murder in Hertfordshire newly sharpens the edge of Jesus’s once-radical parable. Like Christ, we must ask again, "Who is my neighbour?"


The parable of The Good Samaritan has been retold in real life with a nasty twist, as if adapted by Quentin Tarantino. The bystander was cast to type: a pensioner in a sleepy English village, who died saving the octogenarian victim. And the villain was the archetypal Daily Mail bad guy, a convicted killer who had only recently been released. But the victim, who survived the ordeal, was a paedophile, convicted some 30 years after his crime and also recently released.

This tragic story newly sharpens the edge of Jesus’s once-radical parable. Christ’s original question was: “Who is my neighbour?” Today we are less likely to ask that of our potential saviours than we are of the people we might help, directly or through our taxes. Yesterday’s news feeds our fear that our neighbours are more likely than not to be bad eggs: benefit fraudsters, bogus asylum seekers, paedophiles or jihadist terrorists.

That presumption turns the original parable on it’s head. In Jesus’s story, all the question marks are over the passers-by and the victim is assumed to be innocent. Now, we doubt the virtue of the apparent victims, wondering if they really are as deserving as they make themselves out to be. And so where once the duty of assistance was assumed unless shown to be null and void, we are increasingly imposing conditionality from the outset.

For that reason, these events frame the modern-day question of what being a good neighbour means all too vividly: are we willing to help those we see in need, even though it will turn out that some of them, perhaps even a significant number, have done less to deserve our help than others? Of course, if we happen to know for a fact that someone is a nasty piece of work, we might not put ourselves at risk. But most of the time we don’t, and even if someone has a criminal record, we cannot say whether they have put all that behind them and are now living blameless lives.

That is why neighbourliness isn’t about justice. Justice can only be dispensed when you have all the facts in front of you. When you don’t, the result of helping can sometimes be terrible unfairness, as in this case, where the more innocent man died. Being a good neighbour is about compassion, which is as warm-blooded as justice is cool-headed. Society needs both justice and compassion, a head and a heart, if it is to be civilised. We should not therefore allow stories of undeserving beneficiaries of aid put us off giving help where we see it needed, and asking questions later. Compassion, like justice, must start with a presumption of innocence, with all the risks that this entails.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own