Love of neighbor

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him, and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Luke 10: 30-37

I believe that 95% of what we need to know about morality or ethics is contained in the above story and a little background information. Jesus, of course, had a purpose in making the neighbor of the story a Samaritan: the Samaritans and the Jews of Jesus’ time did not get along very well, and yet it is the Samaritan, the outsider, who shows compassion, and not the priest or the Levite, men of social standing who ostensibly had a duty to serve the unfortunate.

It is hard to thinking of anything I’ve done wrong in my life that is in harmony with the spirit of this parable. Indeed, if one follows this spirit, about the worst one can do is err on the side of kindness and generosity.

Love of neighbor is my personal big takeaway from the New Testament. Jesus certainly puts a good deal of emphasis on it:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22: 37-40

So why am I talking about love of neighbor in this post today? One, I do so as a personal reminder that love of neighbor is what I need to be thinking about in my interactions with others.

Two, as this blog is in part about spirituality, I wanted to point out that, in my experience, New Agers like myself revere Jesus and his teachings. Further, sometimes the most important spiritual lessons are the simplest. A lot has been said and written about morality and ethics over the millennia, but I doubt that anyone will ever improve upon this short and simple but deep story (I recognize that the Old Testament contained these teachings as well, but Jesus conveyed them in a new and maximally effective way). We New Agers may meditate, mind our chakras, and engage in all manner of spiritual thises and thats, but if we forget love of neighbor we are not being true to our principles, and our practice is for naught.

Three, I don’t often get political or negative in this blog, but I need to comment on an aspect of the Culture War and certain Christians’ role in it.

I do not see love of neighbor in the hatred expressed by these Christians toward Muslims and people in the Mideast. I don’t see love of neighbor in their calling Obama a Muslim and thinking that being a Muslim disqualifies one from being president of the United States. I don’t see love of neighbor in the jingoistic, Christianist worldview in which the United States is inherently righteous and tasked by God with smiting those who don’t think and act as our “Judeo-Christian” country would like. I don’t see much love of neighbor in the way these Christians denigrate gays and fight against their equality in marriage.

In general, the political right in the United States calls itself Christian, and George Bush calls himself born again, but in the Bush administration I have not observed much love of neighbor. (Need I go into details?) In the ugly McCain-Palin campaign and in the unhinged right of radio and TV, I am not observing much love of neighbor. Instead, I am seeing something harsh, hectoring, inflammatory, and invalidating. It is not a worldview that wishes things were right, even by its own standards; rather, it takes delight in things being wrong so that there is plenty of butt to kick and excuses to grab more power. Its adherents don’t succor the outsider, pouring wine and oil in his wounds. They kick his ass.

Lest I be unclear, Christians in this mode are in a very small minority, but over the past 30 years they have raised an increasingly loud ruckus. I don’t mean to search for a mote with a plank in my own eye, but this is no mote: it’s a complete disconnect with the core of Jesus’ teachings–an ocular telephone pole, if you will. I would request that those who call themselves “Christian” while engaging in the above-mentioned behaviors reread the parable of the Good Samaritan and ask themselves if they are being a neighbor or passing on the other side.

At the same time, we who are disturbed by the Christianist right must ourselves practice love of neighbor, resisting the temptation to make them an enemy by which to feel good about ourselves or an “other” through which to build our own unity.

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