“And who is my neighbor?” So begins Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which contains one of the great Christian teachings. Though most are familiar with the parable, it bears repetition. Jesus tells of a man who is overtaken by bandits and left for dead on the side of the road. In this near-death state he is passed over by a priest and a fellow countryman, both of whom choose inaction. By chance a Samaritan, who ought to be this man’s enemy, takes it upon himself to care for the man. He tends to his wounds, takes him to an inn, and offers to pay the innkeeper all the expenses incurred until he returns from his journey. The Samaritan was under no obligation to do any kindness for this man; society, and Jesus’ listeners, would have expected him to leave the wounded man to his demise.
We find no less division in our modern world than we find in the ancient scriptures. Such division is evident in every area of the human experience. We live in a world in which the “us versus them” mentality reigns supreme–from politics, to our legal system, even to our sports. Our political and philosophical views have come to be held as Gospel truths, while those views with which we disagree are denounced simply because they disagree with ours. We are a cynical, proud generation of man and so inwardly focused that we can no longer acknowledge the shared humanity in our neighbor. We clamor to have others pay attention to our problems and our victories; witness our social media posts.
Modern man tends to assume that his neighbor is his enemy. Doing so reinforces the idea–so encouraged by our narcissistic society–that one is superior to his neighbor. In a truly perverse way we have inverted the Golden Rule. No longer do many of us treat others as we would be treated; we now treat others as we have been treated ourselves. In politics, for example, if we are attacked for our beliefs or for how we voted, we return vitriol for vitriol. If we are wronged, we turn to the courts, suing our neighbor. In sports, we deride the opposing team, its players, and its fans. Even on our streets, we are ready to take offense at the smallest perceived slight by another drivers, and incidents of road rage thus abound.
All are created in the image of God, and God is love, so to love another is to allow the language of God to be spoken through you. Loving our enemy brings to light that a man is not so different from his neighbor– political, social, or religious differences be damned. So much of what divides man from his neighbor is petty, superficial, and vanity, yet a cursory glance at society reveals so much animosity as to suggest that man stands on the cusp of social breakdown.
It was C.S. Lewis who wrote that loving one’s neighbor is not easy, and often times is done against one’s own inclinations, but if one does so he will soon find himself loving his neighbor by choice and out of a genuine love. Just as telling a lie often enough will eventually lead the liar to believe it, so too will performing acts of love lead one to love others genuinely. Lewis pointed out that it easier to love abstract concepts, like “humanity” and the “world.”
Modern man submits himself to the tribalist mindset that only allows for like-minded recognition of another’s worth. That is to say, his love is conditional, with said condition being that to be loved one must meet certain criteria. Such criteria are simple enough to explain: one must merely agree with him, and hold the same political, religious, and social views as him. In so doing, conflict can be avoided; it is peace through uniformity.
Truly, it need not be this way. Every man and woman has within him or herself the ability to play their own small role in the larger act of reconciliation. It is imperative, then, that we ask a critical question: Who is our neighbor? Christ wants us to understand that our neighbor is whomever we encounter, wherever we happen to be. He draws no distinction between sinner and saint, for just as the rain falls on both alike, so too is God’s grace, mercy, and love extended to all. If God, who alone experienced the full sorrow of humanity, can look past great sin to forgiveness, cannot we do the same?
To love my neighbor, by the Christian understanding, is to show a Christ-like love for all men and women of all walks of life. Gay, straight, black, white, legal, illegal—just as the rain falls on sinner and saint alike, so, too, does the love of Christ fall on all of His creation. Aye, there’s the rub! Christ tells us to love our enemies. As He states, it is easy to love those who are like you. Robbers and murders and all manner of degenerates are capable of loving their own, and there is nothing extraordinary about it. Christ tells His own that they must indeed be extraordinary, that they must walk the extra mile with the centurion, that they must surrender not only their tunic, but their coat as well. In effect, Christ tells us to do not only what is natural and expected by the world, but also what is unnatural and thus contrary to the world around us. There is nothing more unnatural than to love one’s enemies.
The answer to the Pharisee’s question, “Who, then, is my neighbor?” is quite simple: everyone who has a breath left to breathe. We are to imitate Christ, however imperfectly, by offering help to all who have been left for dead. The task is, needless to say, daunting, for truly ours is a culture of death in myriad ways, but Christ did not say to do His will until it becomes a burden. He urged us to do His will, and to retreat to Him when rest is needed.
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