Who Is My Neighbor?
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
- Luke 10: 25-37
A couple of years ago, while in Israel/Palestine, I visited Jericho which is really in Palestinian territory, and on a road between Jericho and Jerusalem was a site where once stood an ancient travelerís lodge, an inn of some sort, and later a church was built on that site. Now a museum was built on the site has been called the Inn of the Good Samaritan. Some really believed that the story of the Good Samaritan was a true story and not just some invented story to make a moral point. Whatever might be the case, the story itself is one of the most important stories in Christian lore that has captivated our minds and hearts.
While in Israel and Palestine, I met a Chinese-Canadian woman, a recently ordained pastor then, and we struck a friendship. A week ago, she wrote me an email to say hi, and to let me know how she was doing. She told me that she is now in a relationship, and proceeded to tell me that the man she is in love with happens to be black. I think I understood why she had to mention the race of her fiancť. In many Asian cultures, there is still some taboos on interracial marriage. Many Asians find it a challenging idea to marry outside oneís ethnic group and more so outside oneís race. And itís not just race. We know that for many- not just among Asians- marrying outside oneís faith and religion could also be a challenging thing.
It has been documented that in the United States, anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen 1600% since 9/11. In 2007, 34% of all hate crimes reported in the United States were committed against Blacks, 7.8 % against Hispanics, and 2.5% are against Asians or Pacific Islanders. According to a report released by the NYC Anti-Violence Project in June 2013, despite a slight decrease of reports nationally of violence against LGTQs between 2011 and 2102, in NYC, there is a 4% increase of anti-LGBTQ violence. Of course, not everyone reports so the numbers is thought to be higher. Elsewhere in the world, we hear of conflicts that are both religious and racial in nature. Consider, for example, the recent reports of violence heaped upon the Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar. We hear of violence between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan or Ethiopia. It is a shame that people think theyíre so different from each other that they forget that before God, they are all equal, created to be brothers and sisters.
Conflicts arising from racial or religious prejudice are not new; they have been there since the beginning of human history and so it is not surprising that in Jesusí time, such conflicts also existed. Consider, for example the conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Long before Jesusí time, there was a unified Kingdom of Israel of Judah- with all twelve tribes gathered together under one ruler and one religious center. Soon, the Kingdom was politically divided between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. The South had its political and religious center in Mount Zion of Jerusalem while the North had its capital in Samaria (hence the term Samaritan). The North and South became rivals of each other though they were really at one time, one people, one nation and one religion. But after the split, the Northerners thought that the true center of worship was in Mt. Gerizim, while the Southerners thought the true center of worship was in Mt Zion. Later, the North was invaded and destroyed by a foreign power and the people of the North intermarried with non-Israelites. Because of this intermarriage, the Southerners thought of the Northerners as racially inferior. The Jews of the South thought of their northern Samaritan neighbors as religiously and racially inferior.
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who helped a Jewish man left for dead on the roadside by those who robbed him, the story must have made some people uncomfortable. Because Samaritans and Jews didnít like each other much, one wouldnít expect a story in which a Samaritan would be helping a Jew. There is more twist to the story. We are told that a Jewish priest saw his fellow Jew half dead on the road, but the priest didnít help him. We are told that he crossed on the other side of the road to avoid the half dead man. Another Jew, a Levite (that is, an assistant to a priest) also saw the same Jewish crime victim, and he, too, failed to help and crossed to the other side of the road. You think that a fellow Jew and a religious one at that would show mercy and compassion to the man left almost dead. But that is exactly the irony of the story. Some say that the priest and Levite didnít want to help because they really didnít care, that their religion was just for show. Others say that their action can be best understood if we consider that Jewish religious law that prohibited contact with the dead because it would render them religiously impure. They avoided the needy fellow because thinking that the man was already dead, they were following the religious law prohibiting contact with the dead. In any case, the irony is that they failed to show mercy and compassion to their fellow countryman.
Now here comes a Samaritan, and perhaps one would expect that if there is anyone who would or should ignore the half dead man on the road, it would be him. Instead, Jesus, tells us, it was the Samaritan, religious and ethnic outsider, who showed love and mercy.
How important this story for us is. Jesus says that whoever we are, whatever race, ethnic group religion, whatever age, gender or sexual orientation, whatever beliefs and politics, we are all capable of showing unboundless love to all people. Religion, race, politics, and whatever seem to divide us, these in the end need not divide us. All human beings have a heart and created to love and for love, for mercy, not hate, for compassion, not indifference.
© 2013 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino worker-priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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