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Who is Our Neighbor?

Written by Stephen Buckley

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ best-known parables. Its message has so saturated our culture that we routinely use the phrase “good Samaritan” for someone who shows mercy. It’s a story that would have been revolutionary to its listeners. And it should be to us too.

In Luke 10, an expert in the Mosaic and rabbinical law asks Jesus: Who is my neighbor? 

In response, our Lord tells a vivid tale: A man finds himself alone along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Bandits, who routinely roamed that notorious route, attack our anonymous victim, strip him of his clothes, and leave him bleeding.

A priest happens upon the scene—and crosses to the other side. A Levite comes along and does the same. Then comes the Samaritan, who bandages the victim’s wounds, salves them with wine and oil, hoists him up onto his animal—which means the Samaritan has to walk—and pays to put him up in a motel.

Those listening were no doubt astonished, as racial and religious animosity between Jews and Samaritans had stretched back centuries. Jews despised Samaritans as “half-breeds” who were less than fully human. 

Some in the audience, many of them deeply religious, probably gasped. Some may have grumbled about the victim being alone “in the wrong neighborhood.”  Others may have scoffed. That’s because Jesus was saying: Everyone is our neighbor, no matter their religion, social status, economic class, race, or political party.

As a people long aggrieved and oppressed, Samaritans in the audience may have been confused too: Is Jesus saying that we have to show mercy to Jews? We have to forgive them for their discrimination and racism? They’re our neighbors? The uncomfortable answer, of course, was yes. 

Those last two paragraphs are hard for us to read. And as a black American, that last paragraph was hard to write. But Jesus is clear: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. No exceptions.

We face what is likely to be another deeply divisive political season this year. Election campaigns—national, state, and local—threaten to further fracture a nation already riven by race and politics. We’re no different from the Jews and Samaritans: We’re not only suspicious of our neighbors. We often despise them.

But, like the Good Samaritan, Christ commands us to go beyond our comfort zone to love and serve others. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, whose wounds will we salve? Whom will we comfort? Whom will we forgive? How do we listen well to one another, even when we disagree? 

This may mean engaging the colleague who supports Trump, or the one who voted for Biden. It may mean showing compassion to both the Jewish classmate and the Palestinian family in our apartment complex. But it also may mean reaching out to the Waypointer who sits in the same aisle with us every Sunday, whose name we’ve never learned.

Who is our neighbor?

The answer may be closer than we think.

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