Many of us live our lives in a kind of community. We live in neighborhoods and apartment buildings. We work in offices or commune in classrooms. We have social communities, religious communities, and of course familial communities.
We know who our neighbors are, and for the most part we even know many by name. But what do we really know about them? And how would you describe them? After the events of September 11, 2001 many people began to shut their windows and lock their doors to the outside world. Many began to divert their eyes from strangers, preferring to keep to themselves, while at the same time keeping a close watch on anyone who might seem different than them.
I was guilty of this at times. I too began to look at people with suspicious eyes. Especially those who "looked" like they were of Middle Eastern descent. As security at airports intensified, I began to blame anyone who looked "brown skinned" for the pain and suffering I had to endure by taking off my shoes before I could go through the metal detector.
I recall a Latino remarking to a friend that he was not only accused of being an illegal alien but now people thought he might be "one of those terrorist." Here was a man who had personally understood discrimination, who had felt the burning gaze of police and citizens alike, and he himself could not see his neighbor as anything but a threat to his way of life.
The current plight of the thousands of people (many whom are small children) who seek refuge in a country like the United States is difficult to balance. On one hand they need refuge and safety. On the other hand, we need our rules and regulations to be safeguarded to protect our citizens from people who seek to inflict real damage and harm.
But as political lines are drawn and as peoples lives are being further disrupted, I cannot help but to think of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-36).
The story begins by answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Is it the person lying in the street, beaten, robbed and barely alive? Or is it the priest who, because of religious purity laws and fear, pass by the wounded man? Or is it the wounded man's enemy, a dirty untrustworthy Samaritan, who not only risks his own ifs to save the guy, but also takes on the financial burden to ensure the man recovers from the violence that had been afflicted upon him?
The neighbor, as Jesus makes clear, is not the first two but the latter. He is the one who has crossed the road, "bandaged His wounds, pouring oil and wine on them...lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him."
Who are we crossing the street to care for? Who are we going out of our way to meet? Who are we helping when no one else will? What laws can we overlook to in our lives to protect and care for those who are dying on the side of the road?
Who is your neighbor? Henri Nouwen writes, "My neighbor is the one who crosses the road for me."