Sunday, February 12, 2017

Who Is My Neighbor?

This has been a discouraging few months as far as politics goes. First there was the campaign. Clearly civility is not a priority in the U.S. Then there was the election. I still find the outcome difficult to believe. Then there was the post-election reaction. More incivility. With excuses. Now, several weeks into the new administration, my disappointment continues on many levels.

My biggest disappointment throughout all of this, however, is with the Christian community.

It has been hard for me to understand how Christians could support a man who so clearly did not affirm anything vaguely resembling the historic Christian faith and whose treatment of others seems to be at odds with the basic teachings of our faith. I have heard a variety of reasons by now but remain unconvinced that supporting such a person was the best option.

But I have been almost as puzzled by Christians who seem to find it ok not just to disagree with those who support the current administration, but also to attack and demean those with whom they disagree through everything from name-calling to condescending attitudes.

This past Sunday our pastor preached about the Good Samaritan. The expert in the law asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers a story about a man who gets attacked on the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and Levite walk by without helping. Some time later a Samaritan stops to help.

Jesus then turns the question back to the expert in the law – so who was a neighbor to this man? The Samaritan. Hmmm….a problematic answer for the legal expert who by nature and nurture would hate the Samaritan. Go and do likewise, Jesus tells him.

While there are as many ways to interpret this parable as there are theologians to weigh in, it seems quite clear that at the very least our neighbor is someone in need, and someone we might have to take a risk to help. If we look at this parable in the context of Jesus’ teaching overall, the neighbor might also be an enemy given that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

So the answer to who is my neighbor turns out to be rather surprising. In fact, it turns out to be everyone, even those who disagree with us, wish to harm us, and hate us.

Given this, what does it look like to love that “uneducated white male” who seems to be the brunt of jokes, criticism, and general dislike?

Or what about that “coastal liberal” or “educated elite?”

Or how about the “evangelical soccer mom?”

Or the African-American? Or Muslim? Or Hispanic?
Perhaps one place to begin loving our enemy is to stop posting demeaning statements about groups of people on Facebook, Twitter, or some other impersonal form of communication and find someone within the group you are sure you know so much about and TALK TO THEM! Listen to their story. Listen to their fears. Listen to their hopes and dreams for themselves, their kids, their grandkids, and the people they love. If possible, share your story with them so they hear the same from you.

Pray for them, as Jesus commanded. Seek their welfare.

Listen with a critical ear to your favorite news sources. Recently, when the news was reporting on a person quite well known to many in our area it became apparent how much even my most trusted news sources get wrong. If they could not get even the simple personal facts about someone correct, facts that were widely available, what else might they be overlooking in their effort to get the latest news to the public? It’s a question worth asking in part because how you listen to the news affects how you love your neighbor.

Loving your neighbor is not an option. Even the neighbor who is your enemy. How, in this contentious time in history, will Christians make themselves known by their love?