Tullamore students take the message of the Good Samaritan to heart
Thinking Anew: More than 2,500 years ago people were debating an issue that troubles us to this day
The young people of Tullamore saw Nonso Muojeke as a neighbour, a person in need, and campaigned for him to stay. Photograph: Courtesy of RTÉ
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” These words are from tomorrow’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Ruth. However we don’t get their full force without some understanding of the historical context.
On the surface this is a story about a woman called Naomi who had fallen on hard times. Together with her husband and children she had left Judah to escape poverty and prospered in nearby Moab. But her husband and sons died, and she becomes poor again. She is bitter and considers God completely unreliable. God’s help is embodied in a woman called Ruth, but Naomi cannot see this initially because of her racial and religious prejudices: Ruth is a Moabite, not an Israelite and she is poor. Naomi must change and when she does she discovers the extraordinary goodness available to her in Ruth’s friendship. A reminder to us that God’s help often comes in unexpected ways.
At one level this is a simple story about relationships among peasant people who care about each other as William Neil points out in his One Volume Commentary: “It would almost seem as if we are being reminded that while political manoeuvres and armed violence are part of the texture of life and the struggle for existence, side-by-side with them the life of the countryside goes on . . . people carry on with the small affairs of the world and know the joys and sorrows of every day.”
RaceBut Neil says there is more to it. This is a story about race, religion and identity. Ruth was not a pure Israelite, she was a native of Moab and according to Jewish law no Moabite was eligible to belong to the religious community of Israel.
This is significant because at the probable time covered by the book there is a major debate going on between those who favoured strict racial and religious boundaries and those who advocated a more open and inclusive approach. It’s interesting that over 2,500 years ago people were debating an issue that troubles us to this day. The Book of Ruth, as does much of the Bible, champions diversity and tolerance.
The gospel reading touches on the same subject. Jesus is asked to state the first commandment. His answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. Elsewhere when Jesus is asked to explain “neighbour” he told the parable of the good Samaritan. It is significant that while in that parable we are given details about each of the other players – the Levite, the Priest and the Samaritan – we are told nothing about the victim apart from the fact that he is injured and needs help. The identifying mark of a neighbour is need; nothing else matters.
Need was the test for pupils at Tullamore College who recently campaigned against the deportation of their fellow pupil 14-year-old Nonso Muojeke who had lived here for 12 years. Several applications for residency had been refused and eventually Nonso was served with a deportation order.