The shootings in our country last week highlight frustration around law enforcement and racial discrimination. They also highlight mental illness, as does every instance in which one person takes it upon himself to use violence and murder to force their own ideological agenda. The juxtaposition of a peaceful protest and a murderous sniper shows the difference – one is within moral and civil rights, and the other is abhorrent.
How, then, do we respond as Christians? How do we respond as a predominantly white church in a southern society in which African Americans are treated differently because of the color of their bodies? How do we show compassion for our neighbors – both the shooters and the slain – and teach them through word and example of the great all-encompassing love of God?
Sunday’s lectionary text happened to be the story of the “The Good Samaritan” from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25-37). The story was timely, and provided a foundation from which to talk about the boundaries that we draw in our society, and ways that we can become “Neighbors without Borders”:
- Living as a Christian (loving neighbor as yourself) means ignoring labels like “deserving” or “undeserving” and simply following “need.” Boundaries are not what defines neighbors. “Neighbor” is a term of relationship and human need. “The Samaritan, however, does not ask whether the victim brought trouble upon himself, but simply stops to help. We are inclined to sort needy people into deserving and undeserving categories, which allows us to excuse ourselves from helping those who are not deserving. Christianity, however, is about help for the undeserving (Romans 5:8).”* (But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.)
- When you recognize your own need, you can allow others to be a neighbor. “The limits of neighborliness come, not from without, but from within. We can be neighbor to anyone who will accept us as neighbor. The person in need is the best candidate to be our neighbor, because the person in need is most likely to accept us. The samaritan is willing to be a neighbor to the wounded man, and the wounded man is willing to accept his help. That might not be the case had he not been wounded.”
- When you recognize others’ needs, you can be a neighbor.
- Love God, love neighbor, and love yourself. “JOY=Jesus, Others, You”
The Good Samaritan story is not only about helping those you come across who are in need. It is also about opening yourself up to let others be your neighbor.
Ask yourself, what are the boundaries that I have drawn in fear? When you name them, ask God to help you respond to your fear with compassion. Invite God to help you respond to others’ fear with compassion. Let us drop the boundaries, and become neighbors.
*Quotations come from Rev. Dick Donovan’s www.lectionary.org