We hear much from many about the equality of all people, encouraging the treatment of all people with dignity and respect, helping each to reach their God-given potential. From stump speeches to cinematic productions (see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” to be released on Friday), the encouragement is frequent and broad.
The encouragement always receives a rousing amen from the Intramuralist, whether referencing our national Declaration or the timeless Golden Rule… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you… Treat people the way you want to be treated… Repeatedly, we are wisely spurred on to love our neighbor as ourself, recognizing all as equal.
And yet, while we seem to say that over and over again, a quandary still exists. Many of us who call for that acceptance and dignity and respect still intentionally withhold it from someone. It’s made me wrestle with the following, brilliant question from a wise friend:
Who is my neighbor?
Isn’t that a crazy question??
I mean, if I can see someone as not qualifying as my neighbor, then I can withhold all the good I know I otherwise ought to do.
Hence, who is my neighbor?
Allow me to rephrase the question in a respectful, little more painful, still accurate way…
What is the minimum required of me in how I’m supposed to treat another?
Is that not the essence of the question? Isn’t that what we’re really asking? If I can see someone as actually not my neighbor, then I do not have to love them. I do not have to treat them with dignity and respect. I do not have to accept them. I do not have to see them as created equal. And I certainly don’t have to pay any attention to them nor wrestle with what they believe…
It’s what allows me to think my MAGA hat wearing friends are delusional.
It’s what allows me to think my “Bernie 2020” friends have fallen off the deep end.
It’s what allows me to totally avoid and look down upon any who don’t look, think, act, believe or vote like me.
Not my neighbor? Great. I don’t have to treat you with any semblance of respect. I don’t even have to fake it.
So it takes us back to the root of the question. Who actually is our neighbor?
Fascinatingly, from those who follow Jesus and those who do not, with great respect for all, many respond to the preceding question with the account of the Good Samaritan. It’s a parable which transcends culture and all organized religion, showing up often in medieval art, later in the works of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, even in English law and colloquial metaphors. We all know a “good Samaritan” as a charitable person, one who helps another in need, even a stranger.
As the parable is told, a man had been stripped and beaten by robbers, left at the side of the road for dead. Multiple people walked by and avoided the man. Then a Samaritan walked by — and understand that Samaritans were pretty much seen as the total low life of society at the time — never ever close to the slightest hero — and yet, a Samaritan stops and helps. Not only did he help the poor man, he also took him to a place where the victim could get further care, and then paid two days’ wages to cover it. Why?
Why in the world would someone be so unselfish and compassionate to a stranger, for heaven’s sake?
Note, also, that highly likely in this case is the probability that the man left for dead did not look, think, act, believe or vote like the Samaritan. And yet, he stopped and helped.
The Samaritan didn’t look at the man in need and see a problem; he saw a person. Seeing him as a person, he was able to recognize the needy as his “neighbor.”
Friends, each of us is each other’s neighbor. Who are you not seeing as a person? Who are you treating lesser? And from whom, then, are you withholding your compassion and respect?