I live in a nice upper class community. The type of place where you can go for long walks and wave to Randy while he throws ribeyes on the barbie.
In my neighborhood is a lesbian couple. At least I assume them to be lesbians. They could, of course, be BFF’s who enjoy crew cuts. I’ve never asked. It seems inappropriate to question people’s sexual orientation on afternoon strolls. Nonetheless, I make it a point to always smile when I drive by their house and they are in the yard. I wave or nod my head. Mind you I run like Usain Bolt from all my heterosexual neighbors’ chit chat, but I smile and wave like Mr. Rogers when I pass my two lady friends. I didn’t even recognize that I was doing this until this summer and we have lived here two years. I guess subconsciously I wanted to make sure my neighbors felt welcomed by me. I didn’t know if they had experienced any long stares or rude comments from people at work, and so I wanted to make sure they felt welcomed at home.
Christ said to love your neighbors as yourself, and then this lawyer when questioning him responds with, “who are our neighbors?” He says this in an attempt to pin Christ down. The religious folk are seriously pissy that this guy claiming to be the Messiah keeps throwing passive digs at their establishment. Christ enters the synagogue and says that the rabbis have turned a house of God, into a den of robbers. Today that would probably sound like Jesus showing up at your super trendy worship service and asking you why there’s a coffee shop.
Or Christ popping in at our ultra-conservative right wing praise session and then taking over the podium talking about wolves in sheep’s clothing. The church doesn’t often remind us that it wasn’t the Romans or secular society that were screaming “crucify him!” It was the religious folk. The church was responsible for ultimately rejecting the one who came to save them. Christ was obnoxious to them, and kept overthrowing their hierarchy. They didn’t think a radical like Jesus could ever truly be the Messiah. All this talk about loving people who were different than you…heretic!
In my case, the lesbian couple are my literal neighbors, but I believe in treating people kindly regardless of where they receive their Amazon prime deliveries. It’s funny because when the lawyer asks Jesus “who are our neighbors?” Christ responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus did this a lot. Rather than directly tell people they were wrong, he would tell them stories until they were able to answer their own questions. It was like The Wonder Years sitcom with those deep self-reflecting narration moments that had you rethinking all your awful choices. I want to be a better person because Kevin Arnold is a stand-up guy.
“Who is your neighbor?” I felt God whisper. Is it just people who think like me, talk like me, and vote like me?
Christ tells the lawyer, and the crowd that is listening to their interaction, about the holy man and priest that walk right by a man who has been robbed and beaten and left for dead. They can’t tell if he is a “neighbor” which in their case meant Jew, or if he is a Gentile, which meant he wasn’t one of them. He is beaten so badly it’s hard to tell whether he is a member of their in group or one of the out group, and so they pass by him and just look the other way. The holy guys pass a dying man in need of help because they have tricked themselves into believing that help belongs to “the righteous.” The Samaritan (an outsider and enemy nation of the Jews) stops and helps the man and puts him on his own donkey, and pays for his food and lodging till he is better. The “unrighteous” nation performs the act of mercy that the righteous men refused to do because they only loved their “neighbors.”
Christ asks the lawyer which man acted justly, and the man, who can’t even stomach saying the word Samaritan, says instead, “The one who showed mercy.”
I’ve seen a lot of memes swirling around my Facebook lately. Some making fun of people by race, or socioeconomic ranking, or religious affiliation. Of course those mocking various political positions. The other day I cackled with my best friend about an obnoxious post someone made and later that night I couldn’t sleep. “Who is your neighbor?” I felt God whisper. Is it just people who think like me, talk like me, and vote like me? Or is it also that obnoxious internet troll that keeps shouting with a series of exclamation marks.
I need to do better. You catch more bees with honey than vinegar. The best thing to break darkness is light. If I can’t stand someone’s ignorance, I should be more poignant with my truth. If I can’t stomach someone’s hate, I should be more open with how I love. And if I don’t like your politics, I should stop and think about what qualities of yours I do admire. I can’t just appreciate people who think like me. That’s too easy. I have to learn to love people who don’t give me much to love. The best way to actually become a Christian, is to act like one.
So today when you pull in to your neighborhood, make sure to smile and wave to your lesbian neighbors.
I’m going to work up the courage to chat with my heterosexual ones too…but in my own time people. Don’t rush me.
Heather Thompson Day is a lecturer for Southwestern Michigan College, Purdue Tech University, and Ferris State University. She is the author of five Christian books and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.