Rev. Peter Friedrichs: Our Jericho Road
In Jesus’ time, men and women walked the dusty, dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It’s about 17 miles from one town to the other, and because it was a major trade route, thieves and robbers favored it. Everybody knew that to walk this road alone was to take one’s life into one’s hands. That’s why Jesus used this setting to tell his parable about the Good Samaritan. It was a place where the contrast between good and evil, between callousness and caring, would be stark and sharp.
Jerusalem and Jericho stand just about the same distance apart as my church and the Occupy Philly encampment at City Hall in Philadelphia. Like the Jericho Road, the path between our suburban home and Center City is strewn with people who have been beaten, robbed and left for dead. The thieves and robbers that populate our Jericho Road don’t jump out from behind bushes. They don’t wear bandanas to conceal their identity or brandish guns and knives. The thief on our Jericho Road is an economic system that has created the institutional oppression of a large segment of our population.
The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us is undeniable. The richest 10% of our population holds more than 70% of the wealth in our country, and the “very rich” – the top 1 percent – owns more than a third of the nation’s private wealth. Nearly 90% of stocks, bonds and mutual funds in this country are owned by the top 10% wealthiest Americans. The disparities are even greater when you take race into account. The median net worth for whites is about 14 times greater than that of African-Americans and Hispanics.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth. But when wealth is accumulated at the expense of others’ well-being – when it limits or denies their access to education, their ability to secure safe housing and good jobs, their access to quality health care – well, that’s where we’re walking down the Jericho Road.
What Jesus didn’t tell us is that we’re not just supposed to be Good Samaritans, fixing up the victims we find on the road. We’ve got to fix Jericho Road itself. We’ve got to make the road safer for everybody. We can’t just bind up the broken. We need to organize our power and apply it against the sources of pain and injustice.
This is what “Occupy Together” is all about. It’s clear that those who are camping out at City Hall in Philly, and in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, and across the globe are seeking to change our economic, financial and political systems. They’re not seeking a Band-Aid approach, but broad-based systemic change. Whether they’re successful in maturing from a grassroots protest to an effective change agent remains to be seen. But what the Occupy movement seeks is to repair the Jericho Road or, perhaps, to build a new road altogether.