In Luke 10, an expert in religious law asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” after being told that the greatest commandments are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And your neighbor as yourself.” Like many of us, this expert was looking for an exception. A loophole on who his neighbor might be. I’m guessing that he already knew that the Samaritans he may have looked down on were his neighbors, but was hoping for a way out. People from Samaria were a marginalized people. Who knows maybe he thought they would corrupt society and the way of life in Jerusalem. Or take away jobs? (He certainly knew that the one who shows mercy proved to be the neighbor to the one in need. He treated the other person as his neighbor.) Who is our neighbor that we are to love as ourselves in 2018?
2018’s tribal and Machiavellian reality was something that many people thought was behind us. Our society had supposedly advanced and we were in an age of color blindness. That was the message anyway. Now that the truth is out and it’s clear that fear, grievance, and the unresolved issues of race in our country is rearing its head, what do we do? Who is our neighbor? How will we act? Children are watching. Are we seeking a loophole, exception or technicality to avoid loving our neighbor? I fear that the church is losing the next generation around these issues.
Loving our neighbor is not always easy. It can create discomfort. A few years ago I was on the subway train and it changed from the local to the express. A homeless man followed me. He stood in front of me and waited for a few minutes. I was drinking some tea out of a large Starbucks cup. I had two cups to make it easier to hold. The homeless man asked me for one of the cups. I suppose he was going to use it to drink out of or ask or people to put money in it. I was uncomfortable with the disruption he was causing me at the time and instead gave him some money. Giving him the cup was apparently too inconvenient. He gave me a surprised look over my hoarding of cups as I left the train. I was stunned and embarrassed at my selfishness. It was a simple request. Not a big sacrifice for me but big to him. A cup! Having the Starbucks cups now is a reminder to love my neighbor. Sometimes our neighbors make us uncomfortable. Perhaps we make them uncomfortable as well.
We all fall short of loving our neighbor. Each of us has different blind spots as to who our neighbor is and how we can best love them. The current choices facing our country are opportunities to love our neighbor. Will we engage in marginalizing others? Share? Love those who are different? Will we hold on to our cup as I did or show acts of kindness? Perhaps 2018 can be the year of loving our neighbor. Being the ones who showed mercy. “God proves His Justice through His Mercy.”