Love Your Neighbor

by Rev. William Sewall, JD

August 2013

Rev. William Sewall

Before I begin the formal portion of my talk on “Love Your Neighbor”, I need to admit to something. I was once a lawyer. Okay, many of you may have just put me under the “Not My Neighbor” column in your minds. But hear me out.

In the first class on litigation in law school we were taught to never ask a question in court if we didn’t already know the answer. But thank God there was a fellow lawyer in Jerusalem, a Pharisee, who had slept through that first class on litigation. From Matthew Chapter 22:

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, 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.”

And what happens next? Like any lawyer, the Pharisee just can’t shut up. And without him, we might never have had the story of the Good Samaritan. This time from Luke:

“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?

And the rest is Jesus’ reply with the story of the Good Samaritan, how a man beaten and robbed lay in a ditch alongside the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. How a priest and a Levite walked by and failed to offer help. How a Samaritan, the equivalent of an outcast, an enemy, did offer help.

Tonight, I’d like to discuss the meaning of “Love Your Neighbor” by telling an updated version of the Good Samaritan story based, in part, on the book “Transformation by Integration” that was part of the August CHI module.

Just this afternoon five pilgrims were walking down the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and as they walked along, they heard a moan from the ditch beside the road. They looked down and there is God, looking neglected, forlorn and beaten. He is a God torn apart by religious warfare, partisanship, extremism, and discrimination. A God who presides over a modern world of enemies, not neighbors. God looks up at the five passersby not so much to ask for help as much to ask, “What are you going to do now?”

The first pilgrim, an atheist, looks down into the gully and says, “God, you know I don’t believe in you, so while you look like God, you cannot be God. Most likely this is just a trick to make me believe in you and I don’t appreciate being deceived. I’m going to Jerusalem.” And off walked the atheist.

The next pilgrim was a minister from the Church of Exclusivism. The minister looked down on God and said, “My church believes in only one true God and you’re not it. So you must be a false god and, if I give you help, I risk eternal damnation. I don’t have time to rot in Hell, so I’m off to Jerusalem.” And off walked the minister from the Church of Exclusivism.

The next minister was from the Church of Inclusivism. He said, “Like my brother before me, my church believes in only one true God and you’re not it. But if you had something worthwhile that might help me with the practice of my religion, I might be willing to help you. The problem is that you’re looking pretty beaten down and forlorn and I doubt there’s much you can give me that is of any value. So, I’m off to Jerusalem.’ And off walked the minister from the Church of Inclusivism.

Then came the minister from the Church of Pluralism and he said, “Hey, God, how you doing? We really had a great relationship for the past several years and thanks for all your help. It was fun while it lasted. I’m sorry I had to leave that voicemail last week telling you that I’ve found another God and it’s best if we break up. Please don’t get upset with me for not helping you now, because I may be back some day. But for now, I’m off to Jerusalem.” And off walked the minister from the Church of Pluralism.

Then came the minister from the Interfaith Church and the minister said…

[Long pause]

What went through your mind? What do you think the Interfaith Minister said?

I’m pretty sure that the minister, a person who welcomes all gods and religions, reached down and gave God a hand out of the ditch. I would also hope that the minister considered that this was not an isolated incident and asked, as did the lawyer, “Who is my neighbor? And does our responsibility end after I have given a helping hand?”

I’m inspired by the words of Martin Luther King. He had travelled to Israel with his wife and driven the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, which was once called the “Bloody Pass”. He found it to be a dangerous, winding road that was ideal for ambushes and robberies. And the experience lead him to a deeper understanding of the Good Samaritan parable:

“On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. Loving thy enemy is only the beginning. It is the first step in reforming the system that creates enemies.”

I would hope that the Interfaith Minister realized that there were many gods – many religions, many people of faith – lying along the road between Jericho and Jerusalem all the victims of hate, neglect and ignorance. I would hope that the Interfaith Minister asked whether we, those of us who profess a belief in interfaith religion, can continue to lead our individual lives reaching out a hand from time to time to help those we find in the ditch along the road to Jerusalem or are we called to something greater. I would hope that we see that an edifice that produces religious persecution, discrimination, indifference and hatred needs restructuring, that loving thy enemy is just a beginning, and that we need to band together to reform those religious, political and social systems that create enemies.

Again, Dr. King:

“All I’m saying is simply this; that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

I would hope that the Interfaith Minister, inspired by Dr. King’s words, ran down the road, caught up with the other pilgrims and said, “Can we stop for a moment and talk? While we all have our own reasons for walking to Jerusalem, the reality is that we are all on the same road. We are bound together as neighbors. We need to work together to protect, support and nurture each other’s beliefs. Whatever effects my god, my religion, my beliefs, effects all of us. If one of us is persecuted, hated or excluded, then each of us is the lesser for it. The only way we can truly be at peace, is if we are all at peace. What we need to do right now, is …”

[Long pause]

What would you say?