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?"

Share

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the feeble-mindedness of ‘predict and provide’ in air travel

John Rentoul
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend – because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map