As racial protests and riots have swept across American cities the past few months, I have found myself uncomfortable, not for the first time in 2020. For me, this year has been like one of those super-magnifying mirrors that zoom in and show you every detail of your pores – some you wish you couldn’t see. I believe this has been true for many people. The global shake-up of the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders disrupted daily life and either left us alone with our thoughts, or conversely left us with no escape from our housemates. Divisive political rhetoric and new examples of racial injustice have recently inflamed pent-up frustrations with a broken system. In the midst of this, I’ve been forced to ask myself questions like: How do I best love those God puts in my path? How do I react under pressure? What do I do when I see injustice? What am I called to do and how am I called to respond if I claim to follow Jesus in these times?
I’m not a preacher or an activist; I am a stay-at-home mom raising four children. But for their sake, and for mine, I am a student of Jesus, and I believe the key to a right response in any situation is to seek to know his heart and mirror that back to the world around me.
I want to talk about racial injustice in terms of a parable and take a look at some principles for myself that I see within that I hope can be thought-provoking. Principles not limited to this moment in time, but certainly not inapplicable to it either.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, an expert in the law asks Jesus for a literal interpretation of the law “Love your neighbor as yourself” by asking “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:27,29). Scripture says that he asks this because “he wanted to justify himself” (vs. 29), meaning, most likely, that he wanted to narrow the answer down and prove that he was doing it well, on his terms. And so, the wise and loving heart of Jesus answers by telling a parable:
“In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”(Luke 10:30-37 NIV)
This question: ‘Who is my neighbor?” rings especially relevant these days. In a year when we’ve been asked to relinquish certain personal freedoms for the greater good, I know I’ve found myself internally asking: Who is my neighbor? Who am I to love as myself, or even at the expense of myself? And when I ask this question, I’m ashamed to say that it isn’t always out of great faith, expecting God to stretch me, it is often with a “surely not” attitude, as if I expect God to excuse me from neighborly love in overly difficult situations. Who is my neighbor? Surely not… This person who disagrees with my politics and voted differently than me? This person who is/isn’t wearing a mask and is making me feel judged/uncomfortable during a pandemic? This child that resists my best attempts to homeschool them? This person trying to malign those I love? This person that thinks/acts/worships differently than I do?
The first principle I see in this parable is that the heart of Jesus seems to call me to expand my definition of neighbor to be more, and not less inclusive. When I try to narrow my definition of “neighbor” in order to justify myself, he challenges me. He purposely sets up the parable to include people whose differences might have made them feel uncomfortable interacting with each other. Jews & Samaritans normally didn’t interact, or even have the best opinions of each other, and the rift between them was both religious and political. Differences in opinion of where to worship, and centuries of prejudice and violence towards each other would have predisposed them to feel less than neighborly towards each other. As a Christian in America, I often lament the limits of our two-party political system, the politicization of every issue, and the ensuing partisan baggage that goes along with that. If I take a stance on one issue, people can assume I am “for” everything else that has been lumped along with it, and it is often a very mixed bag. I feel it fuels a very “us versus them” mentality that is unhelpful. This “us versus them” mentality is nothing new… in fact we see it at play in this ancient parable. And yet, the Samaritan in the parable crosses the divide and helps the Jewish man in need. And so I ask myself: What “divides” might I be asked to cross, in thought, word, or deed, in order to love my neighbor well?
This leads to a second principle: it seems that the right and neighborly response is one of empathetic action. When one of my children mildly hurts themselves by doing something I just told them not to do, I’m ashamed to say that my first response is often one of passive indignation at their poor choice. Instead of rushing to them in compassion, seeking the source of their pain, I sometimes want to hang back and ask “Why did you do that? Didn’t you realize what would happen?” I constantly have to check my response and try to realign it to be one of empathetic action, independent of the natural consequences that play out.
In the time of Jesus, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for being unsafe, with unforgiving terrain that provided ample hiding spots for robbers to ambush travelers. For this reason, many took care not to travel this road alone or at certain parts of the day. It is not hard to imagine the Priest or the Levite reacting to the fallen man in the same uncharitable way I often react to my children: “Why did you do that? Didn’t you realize what would happen?” Or perhaps they passed by because they reasoned this man wasn’t their responsibility. Maybe they didn’t want to deal with becoming ritually unclean or being late to wherever they were going. For whatever reason, either excuses or accusations cause them to “pass by on the other side”. I do this too when I seek to dismiss the pain of those I don’t understand or agree with by pointing out the consequences of their choices as a way to excuse myself from compassion. Maybe if they didn’t break curfew or quarantine… maybe if he had made better choices… maybe if she would wear a mask/loosen up on wearing a mask… maybe if she didn’t contradict her words with her actions…or vote differently… or respond the way I do… then I would act with compassion…and so on and so forth. And so I ask myself: What situations around me might require empathetic action right now? In what ways am I allowing excuses or accusations to cloud my heart?
The third principle I see is that such radical neighborly love is uncomfortable and has a cost. While all three men passing along the road seem to recognize the inconvenience of helping the fallen man, only the Samaritan takes the cost upon himself and does the uncomfortable thing. On the harsh road, he likely used his limited supplies to care for the injured man at his own expense. Perhaps he bandaged the bleeding man’s wounds with strips of cloth torn from his own tunic, leaving himself further exposed to the elements. Perhaps he cleaned his wounds with wine he had been planning on drinking on his journey, and gave up his seat on his donkey, both slowing his pace and taxing his own feet for this man’s sake. And once at the inn, he pays money from his own purse to ensure the continued welfare of the injured man, both for the day and in the future. And so I ask myself: What might radical neighborly love cost me? Am I willing to pay such a cost?
In reflecting on this parable, I find myself humbled and convicted of the times in my life when my response has been less than neighborly, both in action and thought. And while this is an uncomfortable feeling, I believe it can be rich soil for repentance and growth. Am I responding with empathy to need or passing by those God puts in my path? Am I willing to be uncomfortable: to learn uncomfortable truths about myself, to confront my own sin, to speak up when I see injustice and racism, and to pay any costs that come with that?
Faced with my own shortcomings in this area, and the shortcomings of my country that have been so clearly highlighted these past few weeks and months, I can be tempted to despair. Will I ever get any better at this? Will we? Fortunately, Jesus ends his parable not with condemnation, but with a challenge: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) Instead of despairing, I can go and do the next right, charitable thing along my path. I can go and take steps to listen and learn when I don’t understand. Go and repent when I fail. Go and show mercy to those I may not agree with on some things. Go outside of my comfort zone, drawing near to someone despite our differences. And when Jesus says “Go”, he says it as one who leads this charge of compassion, knowing that on my own I will fail, but by uniting with him, I have hope. My only hope of growing in the area of neighborly love is by crying out to Jesus for help, because he is the only one who did it perfectly.
My only hope of growing in the area of neighborly love is by crying out to Jesus for help, because he is the only one who did it perfectly.
For when I, through my own poor choices and the attack of the evil one, was beaten down by my sin and robbed of my dignity, there was one who stopped and had compassion on me. He crossed the divide of all that separated us, and did not pass by on the other side of the road. One who gave up his garment, cleansed my wounds with the wine of his blood and the oil of his priesthood, and stepped down from his seat in heaven to make a way for my healing. One who ultimately paid the price for my restoration not with coins, but with his own life. This is the true good neighbor – Jesus – the only one who can ultimately bring justice for those who were tragically struck down and for all who grieve racial injustice in its many forms. He is the one who can also uphold the cause of the unborn, the foreigner, the disabled, the orphan and the widow, the sick and the vulnerable. He is the one who can restore hope to those that have lost jobs, businesses and dreams in these past few months due to Coronavirus. He is the only one that can unite a people divided and bring healing in the wake of a global pandemic. And he does this by being near in spirit to the brokenhearted and moving with compassionate action through his body the church, that is: through us, whispering a challenge of mercy to those who want to be his hands and feet in this cultural moment to which we have been called: “Go and do likewise.”
Amy Hughes started The Lois Project as a way to combine her love of writing with her desire to strengthen connections between Christian moms. Amy and her husband John live with their 4 children in Michigan, and are part of the Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor.
The Lois Project is a group of Christian women from various cities, countries, and church backgrounds who feel a common call to be disciples on mission in all seasons of life. Most of us find ourselves in a season of care-giving as mothers, grandmothers, mentors, or teachers.
Many of our writers are part of an international, ecumenical Christian community called The Sword of the Spirit. Although we come from Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant traditions we seek to foster unity among these groups and work together.