Once upon a time, a man got mugged and was left half dead on the side of the road. The first two people who passed him chose to avoid him completely. Then a stranger from another country came to his aid. The stranger took care of the man's injuries and put him up in a hotel, paying up front for any future needs, promising to reimburse the hotel for expenses as soon as he returned.
It's one of my favorite stories from Jesus. I'll bet you recognize it. It usually called the Parable of the Good Samaritan (starting at Luke 10:25).
Jesus told this story in response to a lawyer's question. Jesus had just finished teaching about his fundamental moral code: "Love your neighbor as yourself." The lawyer asked a good question. "Who is my neighbor?" In other words, how far does this obligation to "love my neighbor" extend? He probably expected an answer that defined a neighbor as someone living nearby, in his neighborhood or in his village. To answer the lawyer, Jesus told this story.
The geography of the story and the nature of the audience made it pretty certain that the injured man was Jewish. The person who stopped to help him was a Samaritan, a bitter enemy. I can't think of an exact analogy, but the closest I might suggest might be an injured American who is rescued by an ISIS soldier.
At the end of the story, Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus then said, "Go and do likewise."
Some implications. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a fundamental moral imperative. A "neighbor" is anyone in need, regardless of nationality, religion, race or politics.
There is significant research evidence that most Americans are remarkably generous when confronted with an individual in trouble. One-on-one we tend to be compassionate and caring. Like the good Samaritan, individual Americans will help a stranger in need.
But what about the broader implications? Is the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" simply addressed to individuals? Or is this a broader mandate for nations and societies?
Jesus and the prophets insist that governments are under the same imperative as individuals. Justice is love expressed in a wider context. Justice is how we express love in the political, economic and social order. When the prophets speak the Word of the Lord to the rulers of government and to the powerful and wealthy, the prophets use the language of justice. The prophets tell us a nation that lives by the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a nation of justice and righteousness.
We see this idea in another famous story told by Jesus, the "Parable of the Judgment of the Nations" (starting at Matthew 25:31). Jesus imagines a future time when all of the nations are gathered before the Divine throne for judgment. What is the criteria for the judgment of the nations? Did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and befriend the imprisoned? If so, you are a blessed nation. Whenever nations act with compassion toward "the least of these," Jesus tells them that they have befriended Jesus himself.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is a moral imperative for individuals and for corporate structures -- nations, states, cities, businesses, organizations.
So our political and social activities should be oriented toward leaders and organizations that actively embrace the "love your neighbor" mandate. It seems to me that there are some very practical implications.
Political and social policy should be focused on our neighbors in need. We can create structures that ensure food, support, clothing and shelter for all. We can endorse laws that welcome the stranger. We can guarantee health care for everyone. We can create a restorative criminal justice system. Our first social priority is to create structures of compassionate care for all who are in need.
The good Samaritan is a foreigner who helps a stranger. The story of judgment includes all nations. Americans have responsibilities of compassionate care toward our neighbors from other nations, cultures and religions. Love and Justice transcend the usual human boundaries that divide us.
In my political loyalties, I'm looking for leaders and policies that embrace the ethics and commandments of Jesus and the prophets. Whenever we pray "God bless America," we already know what it takes to be a blessed nation.
Commentary on 10/22/2019
Print Headline: Being a blessed nation