Saturday, 5 September 2015

Who is my neighbor?

Already in Jesus’ time, his “good,” religious, law-abiding contemporaries were looking for a way to reconcile their desire for “eternal life” (Luke 10:25) with the rather uncomfortable lack of qualification when, in response, he - like God through Moses before - pointed them to loving their neighbors as themselves (Luke 10:27, quoting Leviticus 19:18).

Loving. Neighbors. As myself.

What do you mean? Just any old neighbor? What if they are weird? What if they have loads of cats? Or, worse still, what if they are foreign? Outrageous!

Their mistake then was to feign ignorance and ask Jesus point-blank: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) [you can imagine the saccharine, angelic looks on their faces]. In response, Jesus proceeds to recount the story of the Good Samaritan that we all know - a guy gets ambushed, robbed and beaten senseless, and a number of passers-by - all of the best caliber: a priest and a professional, well ... they just pass by. Until a Samaritan - to the Jews of the first century AD the equivalent of today's Gypsies, or - if you live in certain countries that like to call themselves Central European - a Syrian Muslim1 - comes along and takes care of our guy. Not only does he make sure our man is "OK," but he - at his own expense - takes him to a hotel and entrusts his care to its owner.

Oh ... if neighbors include Samaritans (Gypsies, Syrian Muslims, Homosexuals, Atheists, Single Mothers, The Divorced, Poor People) then there really is no exception to this category. Drat!

But what Jesus’ listeners at the time, and many of his listeners today too, may have missed is the bait-and-switch that he pulls when explaining his parable. It is not I who am in the position of the magnanimous grandee, handing out charity to neighbor "Samaritans" [who better be grateful for it!]. I am the robbed and beaten neighbor, in receipt of love from the Samaritan! I am the beneficiary, not the benefactor! "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?" asks Jesus, referring to the priest, scribe and Samaritan. The parable isn't about coming across a needy Samaritan and having to overcome one’s prejudices, mistrust and small-mindedness. It is about recognizing that I am a neighbor to the “Other”, who is a source of God's love for me and to whom I am called to transmit God’s love too.

Every single human being is my neighbor, put in my way to receive God’s love through me and to transmit God's love to me. That is Christianity: God. Love. Neighbor.

What is not Christianity - and let me be categorical about this - is to - literally! - build walls between myself and my God-given neighbors, to make it illegal for me to help my God-given neighbors and then to pretend that all of these “measures” are there to preserve my glorious nation's Christianity (cf. Hungary). What is not Christianity is to say that "we can't take in Muslims because we have no mosques here” or to plead poverty when I have a roof over my head while my God-given neighbor has had their family murdered, has had to flee thousands of miles, is at their wits end and is homeless (cf. Slovakia). What is not Christianity is to ask to see a refugee's “certificate of baptism, recommendation from their clergyman [and] information about their health” before considering whether to help them and to equate all Muslim refugees with ISIS (cf. Poland).

I did not plan to write about the open wound on the mystical body of Christ that is the refugee crisis, but the outrageous claims that turning away our neighbors, sent to us by God, blood of our blood, beloved children of our Father, is justified by Christianity and is even done for the good of Christianity are profoundly irrational and offensive. Anyone who still buys such arguments should look again at those deeply disturbing, shocking, wounding images that are all around us, understand that they show our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and heed Jesus’ own words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. [...] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?“ (Matthew 23:13, 33).

1 “[… T]he strongest expression of hatred the Jews could invent against Christ was ‘Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil’ (John 8:48). [… I]f a Jew and a Samaritan met in a narrow way, they were particularly careful to avoid touching each fearing to receive pollution from the other.” John Henry Newmann. For more on this parable see a previous post here.