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

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas