…and who is my neighbor?
Middle school students are wonderful. They have this endearing way of illustrating the depravity of man. You make a set of rules for them, and they will follow it to the letter. They will dot their i’s and cross their t’s, especially if that means they get to break the spirit of the law, while obeying the letter.
When we were at summer camp years back, we made a rule — more for our own sake, than for theirs. No shoes inside the cabin. We don’t want the floor getting wet and muddy. I watched in horror one day, as one of the students stood on my co-leaders pillow with sopping wet muddy feet. We were already running low on sleep and energy, and now my friend had a gross pillow. I called out to the student in despair. Didn’t he remember the rules?
And oh yes, he did.
He knew it was far worse to get the bed muddy… but you see, he was pressed for time, and couldn’t wait to clean and dry his feet. Instead, he had climbed on a nearby table, and leapt from bunk rail to bunk rail, playing a game of “the floor is lava”. He had obeyed the rules. Not a drop of mud or water had touched the floor.
And we wonder why the Old Testament is so full of incredibly specific laws. Every time God wrote one, we found out a new way to get around it without breaking it.
Several weeks back, the students were studying the parable of the Good Samaritan, before all this business with racism and police brutality came into the limelight. But something stood out at me that had not before. And it deserves a revisit.
Jesus has just finished teaching that we should love our neighbor, when a lawyer questions him what qualifies as a neighbor. And suddenly, the law dies the death of a thousand qualifications. Your neighbor must live in a week’s walking distance. Walking distance is defined as how long the average human male can walk a day. Day assumes an eight hour period of sunlight with favorable weather.
That’s why if you live in Antarctica, there are seasons where your neighborhood is infinite because the sun never sets, and seasons where your neighborhood collapses into a singularity because the sun never rises. And on and on we go.
I’m sure the lawyer expected a graduate level discussion of who was a neighbor. But instead, Jesus gives him a multiple choice test suited for a 1st grader. I’m sure you remember how it goes. Three religious people walk by the wounded man because he was dirty. The foreigner steps in to take care of him. So who was the neighbor? The three dudes that all did the same thing, or the foreigner who cared for the wounded man, despite their differences? There, that was easy. You got the multiple choice question right. Now go be like that.
I can’t help but wonder how prepared the lawyer actually was to put that into practice. I’m an engineer, and I understand that the scope of a project needs clear definition… but it seems to me that the lawyer was not trying to define the scope, he was trying to limit it. Fewer people to love means less work. I don’t know if he’s even ready to love his neighbor, much less his enemy.
Yesterday, I attended a prayer march, organized in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Much was said about how different races are not our enemies, but our neighbors, and we should love our neighbors. In and of itself, this seems like a gargantuan task, impossible without Jesus’ aid. But that is where the discussion ended.
At home, I perused Twitter to see what had happened while I was away. I had found that JK Rowling had tweeted the controversial opinion that men don’t menstruate, and people were calling to “cancel” her. A popular engineer I follow from Australia had made the “hateful” comment that “Rubber Feet Matter” (as many electronics engineers forget to design their prototypes with rubber feet), and people were calling for him to be expelled from the podcast he co-hosted.
More and more of these “hateful views” are causing us to stratify. What are those hateful views, I wonder? May I present a few from each side.
- Thinking that men can’t become women, even with surgery, is trying to erase someone’s existence and drive them to suicide.
- Thinking that a border maintains a country’s sovereignty means that you are xenophobic white supremacist.
- Thinking that “Karen” has become a racial slur means you have no appreciation for the gravity of real racial slurs.
- Wanting a haircut means you value comfort over human life.
- Wanting a mask mandate means you’re an authoritarian.
- “All Lives Matter” means you turn a blind eye to racism.
- “Black Lives Matter” means you turn a blind eye to rioting.
- “Blue Lives Matter” means you turn a blind eye to police brutality.
Our solution to hatred is bankrupt. We get on a stage, and whip ourselves over prejudices that we didn’t know we had. We seek enlightenment from the stories of victims, as if they have a solution that the rest of us are blind to. We divide ourselves into the privileged and unprivileged, and repent of our blessings in sackcloth and ashes. We reach out to “that friend” who holds “those views” to see what they’re up to, and see if we can convince them to follow the correct hash tag. And then we pat ourselves on the back, because we’ve made a great show. We love both our neighbor, AND our enemies! This isn’t so hard, why on earth do we need Jesus?
Because without Jesus, we are like the middle school students, looking for a way to follow the law, while still getting what we want. I made a little illustration to help explain this next point. On the top graph is how we like to think of ourselves. “That friend” with “that view”? He’s the enemy that we put up with. Other than that, I get along pretty well with everyone else. #LoveYourEnemy!
But I think the bottom graph explains what’s really going on.
We narrow the scope of “neighbor” to those who look just like us — politically, of course. Next, we broaden the scope of “enemy” to include our LITERAL neighbors, not just the metaphorical ones. Finally, we invent a third group, for people so objectionable they do not even deserve to be called our enemies. Once you are banished to the “OK to Hate” region, there’s no return.
How do we expect to solve police brutality with this strategy, much less racism? Day after day, our neighbors and enemies shrink, and the “OK to Hate” group grows without bound.
All the world’s solutions boil down to saying, “I still talk with people who voted for Trump, and I recognize my privilege.” But in the end, that is no different than saying, “I have a black friend, and listen to Prince.”
Jesus calls us to something far more radical.
Jesus calls us to love Derek Chauvin.