In light of the divisions in American society that have been exposed and heightened by the US presidential elections, it may be a good time for followers of Jesus Christ to ask again the question: “And who is my neighbor?”
A lot has been written and said post-election, often in an attempt to deepen understanding on both sides. But there’s a real risk of “preaching to the choir,” talking past each other or reinforcing polar positions.
This article attempts to shift the balance of conversation from the horizontal plane to the vertical one. In other words, the intent is to promote our dialogue with—and particularly our response to—our Lord, without undermining our discourse with one another. In a time like this, we need to hear God speak into our situation and to make a right response to him.
To help us with this opportunity to hear God, let me ask you to slow down, reflect and complete the following sentence:
“The group(s) of people I seem to have the most wariness/anxiety over, fear of, or irritation/anger/animosity towards is/are ____________.”What group do you have the most wariness over, fear of, or animosity towards? Click To Tweet
The Shocking Samaritan
Now back to the question… “And who is my neighbor?”
The first time that question was asked, Jesus replied with what is now known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
We need to consider Jesus’ response carefully and deeply. But we need to make sure we read it in a way that shocks us like it did those who first heard those words.
The Samaritan in the story was anything but good from the viewpoint of those listening. They were despised, compromised, dishonest, treacherous, contaminants in society, and to be avoided as far as possible.
As New Testament scholar, Prof. Tim Geddert explains:
Jesus’ strategy [in responding to his enquirer] was not to pick a perfect example of merciful loving-kindness and let him demonstrate the right way to treat people in need. Jesus’ strategy was to shock his hearers by taking the least likely candidate… As surely as we link the adjectives “good” or “merciful” with… “Samaritan”, the Jews… would have supplied adjectives like “hateful”, “unclean”, “religiously-perverted”… Perhaps the parable still has the power to shock… if we try to imagine whom Jesus might have lifted out as his hero of compassion today.
Tim Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories
Who Offends You Most?
So how about, instead of ‘Samaritan’, we substitute in:
- Blinded Trump supporters or blinkered Clinton advocates;
- White evangelicals who “compromised the faith” by voting for either one of two morally-disqualified candidates, giving their vote away by nominating a third candidate or a write in, or not voting at all;
- Supposed Christians who by their voting choices are inciting racism and misogyny or promoting corruption and fetal homicide;
- Christian leaders who have (in essence) taken the Lord’s name in vain, used the Bible for partisan purposes, and – by failing to discern the underlying societal issues – have undermined the credibility and witness of the church;
- Ignorant, conservative, working-class white males, or equally intolerant liberal elites with no empathy with the common working man;
- Blacks, Hispanics, or minority groups who expect handouts, take our jobs and undermine our culture;
- Immigrants (legal or illegal) who are an economic drain on – and a major security risk to – our once great nation;
- [Your response to the sentence completion exercise above].
Choose a group that is most unlike you, most offensive to you—and then re-read the encounter between Jesus and this God-fearing lawyer who wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-37).
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“And who is my neighbor?”
“The one who showed mercy toward him.”
“Go and do the same.”
In other words, let us go and show mercy (in heart and in action) on:
- Those most different to ourselves;
- Those that we feel justified to look down upon and erect barriers against;
- Those we think would judge and despise us.
It’s interesting what Jesus does here. In his reply to the question “And who is my neighbor?”, he refused to look at the merits of the “Other”. In fact, Jesus led the lawyer to answer his own question. I trust we have done something of that here.
As he so often does, Jesus—whilst remaining deeply practical—moves matters on to a higher plane. He lands the coin on its edge. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, better or worse. And it certainly wasn’t about who was in or out of our obligation to love. It was—no, it still is—about us Loving God by Loving Others. Jesus moves it beyond our viewpoints, debate and discourse. And made it about our love and our actions. Not how worthy the Other is, but how WE ARE toward the Other.
It’s interesting – hopefully impactful – to note that it inconvenienced the Samaritan to show mercy. He had to change plans and go out of his way. It cost him both time and money.
Here’s the kicker: In a situation where we are missing each other in the discourse—when we hear Jesus speak—the question becomes, “How will I respond to my Lord?”