Can we learn to love our neighbor?

woman kneeling to help homeless man

As we get closer and closer to the election in November my soul is grieving deeply the division and lack of respect for others that politics seems to exude. How we have let ourselves become so divided by party lines that we cannot even have civil conversations with those we disagree with, if we can even talk to them at all. This divisive politics isn’t new, I always dread the TV ads where opponents just seem to disparage each other and not talk about themselves or their ideas/policies. However, it feels like we are farther and deeper into this mess than years before. I worry where this path of division and divisiveness is leading us. I worry if we can we learn the art of listening not in order to respond or change someone’s opinions, but listening to share space together in dialogue.

As I have been sitting in this space, I have been wondering how we can uplift the model of those like the late Justices Ginsburg and Scalia who though they disagreed on many issues were still good friends because they respected each other as people and treated each other with kindness and dignity. How can we learn to treat our neighbors with kindness, dignity, and respect?

This brought me to thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan and the question of who is our neighbor. This story starts with a lawyer asking Jesus how to inherit eternal life. As often happened when Jesus is asked a question, he responds with a question, “What is written in the law?” The answer being to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells the lawyer to do this. The lawyer then asks the follow up questions “well, who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with a parable. The story of how a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead and when a priest and Levite come along they pass by being too busy or making some excuse why they cannot stop to help the injured man. When a Samaritan comes along, he is moved to help the injured man and treats him with mercy and kindness.

Our distance from the culture of the time of this text can take away from our understanding of what is happening here. In the context of Jesus’ time Jews and Samaritans hated each other. I imagine it similar to how democrats and republicans act toward each other these days. They came out of something similar, but due to exile and separation the Samaritans had been disconnected from Jerusalem and the Temple so the Jews saw them as other and different. So it was very counter cultural, even in a story, for a Samaritan to help a Jew was basically unheard of. After telling the story Jesus ask the lawyer “Who do you think was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten?” The Lawyer responds “the one who showed him mercy.” This parable helps us expand our limited idea of neighbor from just being someone we live near, to being all of humanity (and I would argue all of creation). This parable tells us that loving our neighbor means seeing the humanity in the other, and caring for them when they are in need. Loving our neighbor means treating them with kindness, dignity, and respect.

What I think this parable has to tell us today is that we can build up our walls and create division based on our opinions (political or other) like the priest and the Levite do. Or we can hold on to our opinions while also holding tighter to the fact that loving our neighbor is one of the two greatest commandments. Following in that call to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness. It can be a hard journey but it is an important journey if we are going to take steps in learning to love our neighbor. In the midst of such division and hate that we are seeing today, what things can you do to love your neighbor? Where do we need to focus on leading with kindness, respect, and dignity?

Prayer...(excerpts from the Diaconal Litany)

Gracious God, who created all humanity in your image:
Warm our hearts to love you and our neighbor with our whole beings.

Jesus, friend of sinners, companion of the outcast, advocate for the needy:
Enlighten our eyes to see you in our needy neighbor…and there serve you with gladness.

Holy Spirit, guide into all truth: 

Endow us with patience to search for your wisdom; Teach us to speak the truth in a spirit of love; Free us from fear to learn from each other; And give us your grace to be different together.

Sara Manning

Sara Manning

Director of Youth, Family, and Education Ministries
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Boise

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Linda Ruth Worden

    I really appreciated the prayer at the end of your post. There’s so much anger circulating in our society. We need to keep reminding ourselves to slow down, calm down, and see the humanity in the people we disagree with.

  2. Mary Braudrick

    Thank you, Sara, for your piece. What a challenge for those of us who desire to take Jesus’ words seriously.

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