Christianity affirms the intrinsic goodness of creation and the essential goodness of man made in the image and likeness of God. These are bedrock beliefs with far reaching implications. In the realm of ethics and civil law these presuppositions provide the only viable foundation upon which to build a case for civil rights and human dignity. From a theological standpoint, they provide the context necessary for understanding Jesus’ profound summation of the Mosaic Law found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
But exactly who is your neighbor? A lawyer, who desired to “justify himself” once asked our Lord a similar question. Jesus’ response was to tell a story–a provocative story that is known today as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke10:29-37).
Sadly, this parable is no longer shocking; as it most certainly was to its original audience. Frankly, it’s become rather trite–reduced to that of a charming bedtime story for children (or a slapstick musical comedy if you prefer the Veggie Tales version). I feel quite comfortable saying the beloved parable hardly evokes the following emotions within the soul of today’s average reader: conviction, disgust, anger, confusion, regret, sadness, empathy, or shock. Yet this story is a fire starter! It should turn your world upside down; it should force you to re-examine your life; it should pierce your heart, shatter your pride, and cause you to question your very standing before God. But, for most of us, it doesn’t.
One way this is evidenced is by our general lethargy concerning the plight of the LGBT community. In between sermons in which the pastor passionately proclaims in a bright red face that, “homosexuality is an ABOMINATION,” or attending a protest against same-sex marriage, Christians are often entirely indifferent to the emotional struggles of LGBT children who have taken their own lives due to bullying. We sometimes yawn when we hear about the violent, and downright disgusting, mistreatment of LGBT people in Russia and other countries around the world. Our general disinterest in the suffering of the LGBT community stands in direct opposition to the parable which seeks to explain the second commandment that is like the first. More specifically, our behavior is discordant with the Christian principle that human beings have intrinsic dignity, value, and worth because they are made in the image and likeness of God.
Perhaps if we retold the story–taking our current mental environment into account–we might, once again, be shocked out of our self-righteous stupor? Thus, I ask again: who is your neighbor?
Let me tell you a story . . .
“A man was walking home from the office one night when a couple of young gang initiates pulled him into an ally, stabbed him, emptied his pockets, and left him for dead. Now by chance a well respected pastor from a local mega-church was going down the road; and when he saw him in the ally he passed by on the other side. So likewise a beloved seminary professor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a successful gay business man, as he journeyed home that night, came to where he was; and when he saw him he had compassion. He immediately went to him and, seeing that his injury was potentially fatal, bound up his wound using a piece of fabric torn from his own shirt. He carried him out of the ally into the light of the street lamp, pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. As he awaited the arrival of the ambulance he held the man tight and spoke words of encouragement to him. Later, he followed him to the hospital and remained there until the doctors assured him he would pull through. It was then that he discovered the victim of this heinous crime only worked part-time and did not have medical insurance. So he made arrangements to pay off the gentleman’s hospital debt himself.”
Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?