Won’t you be my neighbor?

It’s ironic how despite seeing each other, we often fail to really see each other, or at least beyond the veneer of bias and stereotypes.  I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed at the events of the recent supreme court nomination process. I was frustrated about how the entire process played out, from all the vitriol spewed, to the classless way that certain participants behaved, to the lack of empathy shown. But most of all, I was upset at the message that this appears to be sending to the next generation, male and female. Instead of asking the question, what’s an acceptable way that we should treat each other, instead we were left wondering, who does society seem to care about the most?

Notice, I haven’t even bothered to describe a particular side.  It’s not even necessary. What is necessary though is that as a parent, I have to continually find a way to reinforce positive messages of interacting with other human beings with my four daughters. Meanwhile, it seems like the entire rest of society is trying it’s hardest to undermine basic core values of human dignity at every turn.

This is one of the reasons why after watching only a portion of the hearings, my wife and I began a discussion likely all too familiar to parents of daughters. The problem is, this isn’t simply a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. How we treat each other, regardless of where we stand on the cultural or political spectrum should meet the universal standard of won’t you be my neighbor? You remember the famous show that taught us all how to treat each other, Mr. Rodgers neighborhood? Well, there’s good model of neighborly behavior that we follow in the Wakefield household, it’s called the good Samaritan story.

Told in by Jesus in the gospels, it begins by a religious scholar looking to trip Jesus up on doctrine. After asking Jesus what must I do to get eternal life (a rather self-centered question right?) Jesus responds, well, what’s written in the law, how do you interpret it? Probably a bit smugly and proudly, he recants the key laws- love God and love your neighbor. Then, looking to trip Jesus up he asks Jesus, and who is my neighbor. Interesting question, I wonder why he would ask that. Why wouldn’t you assume that anyone could be your neighbor? Jesus, wanting to expose his heart, responds with a story, which we now know as the Good Samaritan parable.

Here’s a brief recount:

There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him angled across to the other side. Then, a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him aid first, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill- I’ll pay you on my way back.

After the story Jesus simply asks the religious scholar, which one of these three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers? It’s a simple question with a simple answer: the one who treated him kindly. Then comes the command: go and do the same. Translated for us in today’s time: go be a good neighbor. What we may miss, but certainly what Jesus’s audience didn’t miss in this controversial parable, is that Jesus redefined neighbor for an entire culture that cut across firmly identified religious and ethnic boundaries. It took a person who was typically unseen in society (in this case a Samaritan) to see a need and meet it. What does that say about the society as a whole?

Where does this lesson leave us today? There’s a serious lack of empathy in our society, and the empathy gap often prevents us from seeing each other as we really are: people in need of neighbors. It’s the reason why many women are afraid to share their stories of abuse, and the reason why many men struggle coming to terms with changing norms in society. It’s ironic that typically the most disenfranchised of a society (in the parable’s case the Good Samaritan), are the ones who get this lesson first. But everyone needs to understand it, because sooner or later we’ll all be in a position where we will either need a neighbor or we can be one.


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