The _________ Is My Neighbor

Retrospection often brings change.

I think of the “other” and how those who are considered to be wholly different, hostile, despicable, and worth fighting transform as history treads a continuing path.

One of my favorite television shows growing up was Hogan’s Heroes. For those who are not familiar, it was your typical situation comedy. The setting however was unique in that the primary characters were prisoners and their guards at a German World War II prison camp. Now, while the main characters of the show were historically binary opposites, the Allied vs. the Axis, the show portrays them in quite a different light. Of course there is tension, and because the show is a comedy there is much abstraction from reality, but there is general amicability between the Germans and their prisoners.

Now, this is a mere twenty years after a bloody worldwide war of almost unfathomable destruction. Somehow, however, we are able to transform the situation, perhaps see the common humanity within those who were wholly other before. Of course, other nuances exist. The Germans are pictured as silly and, in a sort of way, a bit puerile. Plus, those watching the show are safe; they know who will win.

And, America has a new enemy: the Communists. And then a new new enemy: the terrorist (commonly brushed universally as the “Muslim”). When will it end?

Maybe we need to rework our moral system. Perhaps we need to call upon an ethic of transformation.

I think at some point Christians need to stand up and affirm the heart of our faith, perhaps to ruminate on the transformation of the Cross, a metamorphosis that calls for a changed community and new creation. I think of the parable Jesus discloses of the Good Samaritan, a parable that asks us to encounter the narrative illustrated in a new way.

It is not some story about personal morality. Jesus is no Joel Osteen, calling for us to be our best selves.  In fact, Jesus is completely reworking how his audience (in Luke, this is the lawyer who asks Jesus who his neighbor is and leads to the chiasmic orientation of the parable) sees the “other.” Contextually, the audience enters the story, taking the place of the robbed, beaten, and unconscious Jew. The priest passes, perhaps an expected action as the unconscious Jew would appear dead, perhaps, and thus render the priest and those in his company ceremonially unclean (and in risking this, if he continued with his duties and was found out would be put to death). After the priest, the Levite passes by leaving the bloody traveler to his fate, after all in following the priest he would have been obliged to continue along making the same decision, otherwise he would risk shaming his superior.

Lastly a Samaritan walks by. And stops, feeling compassion for the Jew. The audience certainly would not have expected such a turn! The expected person would have been Jewish layman, not a Samaritan. Instead of an accepted individual, one who is considered outside the boundaries of the Jewish community is inserted into the story, is moved with compassion, and saves the life of one who  would normally have occupied the status of “other.”

In the end the lawyer who asked the initial question to Jesus (“Who is my neighbor?”) is not directly answered. Instead, Jesus reorients the question after he tells the parable: “To whom must I become a neighbor?” The Samaritan is the neighbor, and being a neighbor means to take in the imaginative space that Christ paints with the parable. It means to “Go and do likewise.”

Who are we to vilify those who are  normally considered to be our enemies? Who are we to ignore their pain, their woes, their destitution?

We are the neighbor. Go and do likewise. Seek the justice of God through helping those your context would normally sway you to dislike. Humanize those who you normally dehumanize.