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On Faith: And just who is my neighbor?

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. When Jesus' answer doesn't help, he asked another: "And just who is my neighbor?" Scripture tells us he asks wanting to "justify" himself. So, Jesus tells this story familiar to those even beyond the Christian faith. It's the story of the "Good Samaritan." In this story, the unexpected character, the Samaritan, shows mercy and care and love for someone in need.

This story is unexpected because the story is being told in Jewish religious crowds. The pious, religious Jewish people are not the ones who showed compassion. It was the Samaritan instead. Samaritans were "enemies" to the Jewish folks in Jesus' day because they differed in beliefs, they were outsiders, and they were "not one of us."

The power in the story is that the one who did what the law required was not the priest or the Levite, but the outsider Samaritan. The priest and the Levite, religious folks, carried a fear within them that prevented them from acting with compassion. It was the Samaritan who showed the compassion and love for neighbor that God requires of us when we are trying to love God with all that we have, and trying to love our neighbor as ourselves.

There are times in our lives when this reality will challenge us to our very core. There will be times when the compassion God calls us to offer will stretch beyond that which we think we are capable. God calls us to compassion, nonetheless. There will be times when compassion and our fears will do battle within us. God calls us to compassion anyway. There will be times when our competing values as a citizen of a country and our citizenship in the kingdom of God, a citizenship that calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, will clash against each other for first place in our life.

God calls us to compassion, first. God keeps putting in front of us people who are "other" and begging us to have compassion and love for them. In our own neighborhood, there are people who are "other" because of their religion, their gender, their sexual identity, their ethnicity, their color, their political views, their socio-economic status. We are meeting them and building relationships with them and being called to love them with a Samaritan kind of compassion.

I appreciate the fear that rises in us from the unknown. I appreciate that there is a fear in our country about safety and security for our own. I appreciate that the struggle between our competing values and the struggle between fear and love is real. Even with all the fear and concern carried by the priest and the Levite (and probably the Samaritan), God was looking for each of them to love their neighbor as themselves. Even with all the fear and concern in our world, this I know from my life in Jesus more than I know anything else: God calls me to a compassion that demonstrates itself in loving my neighbor, all my neighbors, as myself. Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.