Friday, August 27, 2010

Who is my neighbor?

In Luke 10, a biblical scholar stands up to challenge Jesus. The theologian was probably getting uncomfortable with all this new rabbi's talk of loving enemies and forgiveness (not to mention the pull your eye out bit). The reasonable religious leader probably just wanted to rein Jesus in a bit, to show that even Jesus' idealism had its limits. And so he asks
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "You have the Law, what do you think it says?" The man replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus said "Good answer. Go do that and you will be fine."
But now the scholar felt a little silly for asking a question he knew the answer to, so he thought he would throw Jesus a curve ball. And so he asked "And who is my neighbor?"
And here is where Jesus did something amazing. Just like us, this Torah expert wanted to know when he was exempt to show love. Surely loving your neighbor doesn't include everybody- so who does it include? Who are we allowed to disrespect, to fear, or to dislike? We humans love limits- we love exemptions.
And so, of course, Jesus answers by telling a story. Its a story of a Jewish man who gets jumped by thieves and left for dead. Two of his own religious leaders walk past him and do nothing. Finally, a Samaritan stops, takes him to get medical care, and pays for all his needs.
Before this point gets lost on us, here is what says about the relationship between Jews and Samaritans:

"Because of their defective devotion to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Because the Samaritans were sometimes hostile, and also the fact that a Jew believed that he could become contaminated by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the Jordan river and avoid Samaria.
The Samaritans often taunted the Jews. They rejected all of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch, and they claimed to have an older copy than the Jews and boast that they observe the precepts better.
The Jews repaid them with hatred. They rejected the Samaritan copy of the law and publicly denounced that Samaritans were of any Jewish birth (John 4:12).
- The Samaritan was publicly cursed in their synagogues.- He could not serve as a witness in the Jewish courts.- He could not be converted to Judaism as a proselyte.- He was excluded from the after life."

So, when choosing his hero for this little story, Jesus choses someone who is despised, rejected, hostile, unclean, deceived and exempt from God's covenant according to his Jewish audience. Then he turns the original question on its head:
"Of the three men who passed the man on the road, who proved to be his neighbor?"
And when they answered the Samaritan, he said "Go and do likewise."
The biblical scholar wanted to know the limits of God's definition of neighbor- Jesus answers by COMMANDING us to go and show compassion without limit- in essence to prove to be a neighbor even to those the world would say are our enemies. He tells his respectable Jewish audience that an unclean, misguided Samaritan who shows compassion obeys the commandments more fully than a respectable Jew who has a hard heart towards others.
I think that Jesus's goal in telling this story was to emphasize that God doesn't have human enemies, nor does the boundaries of his compassion exclude ANY person from ANY background. People draw lines, God erases them. People exclude and chose who we love- God chose us while we were yet enemies.
Just like much of the discourse in many churches and christian circles concerning Islam and Muslims is rooted in criticism, distrust and fear, the rabbis of first century Judaism had plenty to say about why Samaritans were wrong, and they were right. But Jesus did not come to reinforce that message. He came to give living water to a Samaritan woman who was living in sin without heaping guilt upon her. He came to show us who are neighbor is. Like the loving woman on the second floor of our building who buys my daughter presents and sings songs to her. Or my friend at the nearby coffee shop who never lets me pay for anything and always tells me that I am a co-owner of the shop. Or the baker down the street who tells me he has been thinking about me every time he sees me and has our family over to his house for hours of food, coffee and funny conversation- never asking anything in return. Some voices tell me that these people (or at the very least their religion) are my enemy- yet which one of them would not pull my body out of a ditch if I were left for dead?


Blogger Beth Primrose said...

Thank you Mary. THis is so good.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Beth Primrose said...

Oh yes..I mean Drew. Sorry . Its still really good. I so appreciate your insights:)

8:05 AM  

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