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LOWELL GRISHAM: Our greater identity

What if people just focused on needs of their neighbors? by Lowell Grisham | June 1, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

In Jesus' day, the bitterness between Samaritans and Jews was profound. Jews regarded Samaritans as heretics and enemies. Jewish travelers between Galilee and Jerusalem took a long six-day detour to avoid the direct route through Samaria. Anyone traveling by necessity through Samaria could expect hostility and possibly danger. Both peoples chronicled centuries of abuse and conflict toward one other.

Yet Jesus gave "living water" to a Samaritan woman who was an outcast in her own community because of her promiscuous lifestyle. And Jesus made a Samaritan the hero in his most enigmatic story about our responsibilities to our fellow human beings.

It wouldn't be unfair to summarize Jesus' entire moral teaching in one sentence: "Love your neighbor as yourself." And when a lawyer asked him, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answered with the story of the "Good Samaritan." It was a jolting metaphor. Like the "Good Jihadist" might sound to our ears.

A traveler was beaten and robbed and left for dead by the road. A priest and a temple servant walked by on the other side, avoiding the stranger. But a Samaritan stopped, rendered medical aid, and paid the bill for the stranger to be cared for until his return. That's Jesus' definition of being a neighbor. Care for the stranger. Respond to the need of the other.

Jesus takes that personal ethical command and raises it to the corporate level in his story about the Judgment of the Nations. In a scene of a last judgment, all the nations are placed before the Royal Judge. The criteria: the blessed are the nations who fed the hungry, refreshed the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and befriended the imprisoned. The cursed were those who didn't do those neighborly things. It's pretty simple.

I keep wondering what it would be like if we curtailed our "group think" tendencies and regarded other humans solely through the lens of "neighbor." No more Jew/Samaritan, Black/white, Republican/Democrat, native/foreign. Just neighbor. Everybody is my neighbor.

And what if the focus was simply on the need of the neighbor? Feed, welcome, liberate, care, protect, befriend. Don't ignore the other because they scare you, or because they are different from you. Don't walk away on the other side of the street. Pay attention to the need, their suffering, their story. And then, love your neighbor as yourself.

What if white people listened to the stories of Black people and other people of color? Black neighbors are trying so hard to tell us of their experience of racism. What if we listened humbly and compassionately, instead of arguing?

What if straight people crossed over to the other side of the road and compassionately listened to the stories of our LGBTQI+ neighbors? If we could love these neighbors as ourselves, we wouldn't pass oppressive laws that attack them.

Only if we are paying attention to the sound of those who are left wounded by the side of the road can we see them and hear their need. Whenever we see our neighbor in need, how can we generously share our resources like the Good Samaritan? Can America become one of the blessed nations, caring for the hurting and embracing the stranger.

What if Republicans and Democrats listened to each other as neighbors instead of treating each other as enemies? Start with values. What are you for? Forget what you are against? What are you for?

The Victorian theologian F.D. Maurice wrote, "A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies." Today's Republicans and Democrats are actually less antagonistic than Jews and Samaritans were in Jesus' day. What "living water" we can offer to each other: our deepest values, our cherished affirmations, our love.? How can we deepen those values and make them universal in scope?

My deep values: I am for regarding every human being as my neighbor. That says something about my primary identity, and yours. We are all God's children, every one of us. Or, if you don't believe in God, we are all Earth's children. We breathe the same air, we share the same blood, we are sustained by the same planet. We are more alike than we are different. We are all human beings.

Every other identity is secondary. All of those categories of race, nation, religion and family can be subsumed under the greater identity of Human Being. Jesus refused to let those other divisions block his intention to love his neighbor as himself. We should, too.

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