I cringe every time I read the story of the Good Samaritan. Not only at the priest who crosses to the other side of the road to avoid the injured man. Not only at the Levite who looks the other way when he glimpses the bloody, half-naked body. I also cringe at the reaction of the man listening to Jesus’ story, because I see myself most in him.
When Jesus tells the man that loving God and loving your neighbor is the key to eternal life, the man presses him further about his exact definition of “neighbor.”
“Looking for a loophole,” the man asks Jesus, “‘And just how would you define neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29, Msg.)
He wants Jesus to say, “Oh, you know, the old lady across the street…your colleague…the parents of your kid’s best friend.” He wants a small, cozy definition of neighbor.
That’s me. Looking for a loophole, trying to define “neighbor” in as limited a context as possible. I want my neighbor to be familiar. I want my neighbor to look and think and act pretty much like me. To share my same values, to promote a similar ideology, to believe in similar philosophies. I want my neighbor to be on the same page.
Why? Because it’s easier that way. More comfortable. Less fraught with conflict and anxiety and general ooginess. Because if my neighbor thinks pretty much like me and acts pretty much like me, I don’t have to question. My boundaries aren’t pushed. My comfortable little box of a life isn’t exposed. I can simply carry on, content, secure, unthreatened and above all, confident that I am right.
I’ve been reading about Dorothy Day recently for my 50 Women project. Dorothy founded the Catholic Worker movement back in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, when 13,000,000 Americans were out of work. She started what were called hospitality houses – the first one was her own tiny apartment in Brooklyn, where she lived with her young daughter. Dorothy fed and housed any person who knocked on her door for as long as they needed; no one was ever turned away. No one was ever told that they’d overstayed their welcome.
Later, after dozens of Catholic Worker houses had sprung up in cities around America, critics complained that Dorothy wasn’t serving the “deserving poor,” but drunks and lazy free-loaders instead. When a visiting social worker once asked Dorothy how long the “clients” were permitted to stay, she answered, “We let them stay forever. They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
These brothers and sisters in Christ undoubtedly did not share all of Dorothy’s views – political, social, religious or otherwise. They undoubtedly said things that made her uncomfortable, or acted in ways that were unsavory or unacceptable. They undoubtedly challenged her opinions and perhaps even her faith.
But she took Jesus’ instructions “to love your neighbor as well as you do yourself” (Luke 10:27) literally. Her neighbors ate what she ate. They sat at the same table. They slept where she slept, in beds and on couches down the hall. They used her bathroom and brushed their teeth at her sink. Their children played with her daughter.
For Dorothy Day, there was no loophole. Because in her eyes, everyone was a brother or a sister in Christ.
So what about you? Do you cringe a little bit at Jesus’ expansive view of “neighbor?” Do you ever draw a line in the sand to differentiate between “neighbor” and “other?”
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