Who is my neighbor?

This week started out so well for many of us. We celebrated the birth of our nation and the freedoms we possess because a band of colonists were brave enough to say, “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” And they set in motion this incredible American experiment.

But no experimental design is without flaws. Underneath the celebrations and patriotism and mixed feelings (or not) about this great land of ours, there is a history of violence toward and violations of the lives and rights of others–usually the ones who don’t look like us. Although we have made progress around some of those misdeeds (a gross understatement), let us not think that the narratives we write and speak and believe don’t also render others silent and invisible.

Exhibit A: The events of the past 36 to 48 hours.

Black lives continue to hang in the balance every day–sometimes at the hands of those who swore to protect. I thought once that perhaps black parents could exhale just a bit once their sons and daughters survived into their 30s. Apparently, they can never exhale–a notion that takes #Icantbreathe to a whole new level.

Cop lives also hang in the balance. The officers in Dallas had nothing to do with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Nothing. They were working a protest, present, I assume, to ensure the safety of those in attendance. But the misplaced anger and venom of a few people with access to what I also assume were some high powered rifles (based on the nature of the attacks) led to even more heartache and loss of life.

The lectionary passage for this Sunday is the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s a story Jesus tells in response to the question asked by an expert in the law. The expert wanted to know what he needed to do for eternal life. Jesus asked the expert what the law said. He responded: Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself. Affirmative, good buddy. The man followed up that statement by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” And then Jesus launches into the narrative we have come to know as The Parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story, Jesus had a question of his own. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man?” You’ve been given three examples, expert. You tell me who the neighbor is. “The one who showed mercy.” The one who was the helper. The one who cared for a stranger as if the man were his own flesh and blood. The one who crossed the lines of social divide because it was the right thing to do. The one who dismissed the norms of who belonged to which group because another human being, with a real face and a real name (though not known to us–probably for a reason), with real pain and real wounds, needed mercy. And love. And someone to see him when two others passed by on the other side of the road, rendering him invisible.

A friend of mine said today, “If your pastor doesn’t mention the shootings this week from the pulpit, you should demand to know why. Actually, I think you should probably walk out and then sue the church for malpractice.” Because church is one place we seek solace, yes, but also where we receive the challenge and the invitation to see and think and live differently. Because that is what it means to follow the Way. That is what it means to acknowledge Imago Dei. That is what is required to heal the broken places.

Let us awaken from the separateness that keeps us from hearing and knowing the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”