Some might say that “Love Your Neighbor” is the quintessential call of a Christian… but what might this mean practically for Christians in Boston? This year’s theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “You should love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). For the next two weeks, UniteBoston staff Rev. Kelly Fassett and Rev. Devlin Scott will be sharing wisdom on how we can live out God’s call to love our neighbors. Read below as Kelly invites us to consider, “to whom must I become a neighbor?”
As I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan these past few weeks, there are two things that have stood out to me: The willingness of the Samaritan to help his “enemy,” and the way the Samaritan dropped everything, sacrificing his own time, attention and resources to treat the injured man. He was moved with compassion, and so must we, when our “neighbor” is in need.
First, this parable was quite provocative in Jesus’ day because of the hostility present between Jews and Samaritans. Individuals in these two groups hated one another because of their different religious beliefs. Samaritans claimed to be descendants of Israel, and believed that worship should be done at Mt Gerizim, not Jerusalem. These differing religious beliefs eventually became violent – In the intertestamental period, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple; and around 6AD the Samaritans spread human remains in the Jewish temple and sanctuary during Passover. Jesus’ followers who heard this story were so provoked because the hero in this story isn’t a religious leader, he isn’t even Jewish; he is a hated Samaritan, an outsider.
Second, the Samaritan demonstrated abundant self-sacrificial time, attention and resources to the Jewish man. Not only did he bandage his wounds to treat immediate needs, he risked his life by transporting the wounded man to an inn within enemy territory, and spent several days’ wages to continue his care at an inn. He took a risk and modeled costly love for the sake of a stranger, who was perceived as his “enemy.”
By telling this story, Jesus is expanding the idea of “neighbor” beyond the typical understanding of those who are in close proximity to us. The question is not just “who is my neighbor” but “to whom must I become a neighbor?” Jesus describes that neighbor is one from the outside group, the one whose beliefs or practices we don’t agree with and may even harbor feelings against: an “enemy.” The neighbor is someone we may avoid at all costs or we might secretly wish would fail. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t take sides, because I’ve learned that standing up for what is true and right is especially needed on issues of justice. The point is that too often I see God’s people drawing hard lines to keep ideological purity with “our tribe,” which can lead to underlying arrogance, hostility and antagonism, rather than upholding a posture of listening and engaging, treating one another with the love, care and respect that Jesus models and is core to our Christian witness.
In verse 33, the passage describes how Jesus was moved with compassion, which is the Greek verb splagchnizomai. This verb means to be moved in the inward parts, or to experience a deep visceral feeling. Mirriam-Webster defines that “Compassion is the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Do we know one another enough to feel this type of deep compassion?
Here, Jesus is calling us to step outside of our comfort zones to show mercy. Yes, I know how easy it is as a Bostonian to put your head down and ignore all those around you to get what you need done every day (and many of us have a lot on our plates!) It’s also very easy to just stay with those who look like us and believe like us. I’ve learned that especially for the BIPOC community, being with “your people” is absolutely crucial to rest, heal, and avoid the micro-aggressions that are all-too common. Yet, Jesus said that even sinners love those who love them (Lk 6:32). This parable makes it clear that loving your neighbor isn’t about what is easy but about what is costly. It involves laying down our agenda, our time, energy, power, and resources for the sake of the other. It involves actually sitting with those on the “other side,” feeling what they feel, and even risking yourself for their sake, without expecting anything in return.
I invite you today to consider – To whom might God be inviting you to become a neighbor? Is it a particular person, or a group of people? What can you do to tangibly risk your life for their sake, offering your time or resources, in the likeness of what Jesus has done for us?
Being a neighbor might be risky, but it may lead to connection or friendship, or even change the course of two people’s lives, as it did for the Samaritan as well as the Jewish man in this parable. May you listen to God’s invitation during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and beyond, that we might not cross the road from human need but lay down our lives for our friends and neighbors.