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Who is my Neighbour?

John Wesley once wrote: “One of the principle rules of religion is to lose no occasion of serving God. And since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.” Who is our neighbour you might ask, theologians like quarrelling the ins and outs about this question, I have heard some argue that my neighbour is my fellow Christian, or my denomination, or my church. And this is exactly how the Jewish rulers reasoned during and before the times of Jesus. And for many reasons this is our approach still: I care only for my people, who look, think, dress, and speak like me. The other is perhaps only good enough for my charity. But John Wesley in this quote is challenging us to something greater, to a higher ideal.

So who is my neighbour? Well fret no more, because Jesus answered this question, and he made it hard to debate, and hard to follow. Jesus answered this question posed by an expert in the law in Luke 10:25-37. In fact this was an answer to a follow up question, the primary question had much more gravitas to it, and thus informs us of the weight of both these answers. The primary question was: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” To which Jesus said to love your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself. And then followed the famous question, “Who is my neighbour? In answering this question, Jesus chooses to tell a story, i.e. the parable of the good Samaritan.

Now you are probably familiar with the tale, if you want a refresher, go read Luke 10:25-37, but something we often miss is the irony of that name, “The Good Samaritan.” Because, in the eyes of Jewish people at the time, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. Samaritans were evil, heretics, false teachers, godless, immoral, and evil in the eyes of the Jews. They were their arch enemies. Now Jesus intentionally makes their arch enemy the protagonist of his story. Why? Because Jesus told them that their salvation, like the injured man (who is safe to say was Jewish), lies in the hands of the ones they hated most. The story is not about doing good deeds to people in need like helping an old lady across the road, helping a stranger whose car broke down, or even helping others out financially (not to say we shouldn’t do these things if we can). The point in the story is, who is your Samaritan? Because your salvation lies in their hands, as you are called away from the clutches of hate, and into the freedom of love, just like it was with the Jewish man in the story.

So where does your salvation lie? Is it boycotting Woolies? Is it in cancelling that person you consider a bigot? There is no salvation in that. Salvation lies in the hands of the person who riles you up and makes you grind your teeth and boil your blood. Because they reveal to us how we dehumanise based on our prejudice, based on our ideologies, religions, and politics. They reveal to us how we are imprisoned. These people show us how we fail to see humans, and how we choose to see ideas instead. But Jesus shows us that we need to start seeing each other, to go beyond enemy lines and greet our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, our lovers, our spouses, and our children. Jesus shows us how we can escape the hell of dehumanisation and polarisation, and he invites us to enter into the freedom and salvation of a warm embrace.

As the theologian Scott Bader-Saye puts it, “Following Jesus will mean surrendering the power that masquerades as security in order to love the neighbour and welcome the stranger.”

Jesus was a revolutionary, that's why he got hung on a tree through a state and religious sponsored execution. But we follow that crucified king, a crucified God whose message was love. Now, it is a bit early for Christmas carols, but the carol O Holy Night is probably one of my favourite songs of all time. And in concluding this call to love our neighbour, I will leave you with this verse from O Holy Night, because I think it captures this idea well, it goes like this:

“Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise his holy name.”

So next time you feel your heart rate rising or your blood boiling over something someone said, they might be right and you wrong, or vice versa, the point remains the same, you are presented with an opportunity to love or hate, to be free or to bind yourself in chains, what’s it going to be?


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