In times of fear, how do we open our hearts to the stranger among us? How do we live when the neighbourhood looks less like our own, and the back yard neighbour is not “one of us?”
It is in times like these that we must lean ever closer to perfect love, and to the greatest commandments.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
It’s easy when the stranger is on the other side of the world. But when the stranger begin to make an appearance, to make demands in our own world, what then? What if the stranger moves next door?
Now is the time to put the command to work, right when it seems most inconvenient, most irrational, and most impossible.
This neighbour? This “other” with the wrong accent, the wrong beliefs, the wrong God?
Yes, for Jesus Himself redefined “neighbour” in the well-worn story we call The Good Samaritan.
It’s funny. The original question is this: “Who is my neighbour?” We ask from a place of security and self-righteousness, wanting to survey all the options before committing to such an impractical endeavor. “Just who is my neighbour?” we ask with barely veiled suspicion, as if we are in the position to pick and choose.
In the end, of course, the neighbour is not one of the old stock or religious establishment. The neighbour is the Samaritan, the half-breed, the undesirable “other.” It is he who fulfills the command and becomes the shining example. It is he who loves beyond requirement, beyond the letter of the law, beyond reason.
And the tables are turned (as they often are in the Master’s stories), and the one who asked the question is actually the one dying on the road. This is life and death. What’s at stake here is nothing less than eternal life. The real question of this story is not “Who do I have to love?” but “Who will love me back to life?”
Could it be that we are the ones most in need? Could it be that we are indeed wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked? And where does the gold come from? The white clothes? The salve? The stranger.
And how do we receive this life? “Go and do likewise.”
Let us not think we have all to give, and they have only to take. That we are in the know, and they have but to learn.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous place, if we are not walking with Jesus.
It is in showing mercy that we receive its full benefits. We are in need of what the stranger has to offer, and this humbling may be the narrow gate to eternal life.
For what the stranger shows us is the face of Christ Himself. We would do well to ask, “Where is Jesus in this story?”
And he answers, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Yes, the great commandments are for such a time as this, and for the least of these. For if we pass by on the other side, we may just miss Him.
How can we be sure to find Him? By recognizing that we too are in need of the healing only mercy can bring. By laying ourselves down for the bruised and broken and looking for the face of Christ in the ditches of the world.
Perfect love embraces the cast off.
Perfect love saves us from being cast away.
Yes, perfect love casts out fear.
Perfect love is the only way to live in these times, and we may just find it in the face of a stranger.