One of the first lessons I remember my parents teaching me as a child was that our neighbors were special people, and that they deserved to always be respected even though many of them were different. We had neighbors with lots of children. We had neighbors who had messy yards, with junk cars and old appliances piled out back.
We had neighbors who drank liquor and acted wildly, neighbors who stole, and some who were ultra-religious.
I was taught to treat them all the same. And Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
But many people may wonder just who is a “neighbor.”
In Luke 10:25-29, Jesus is confronted by an expert in the law: “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
When Jesus asked him what was written in the Law and how he understood its interpretation, the man said: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus agreed but the man persisted in trying to trick Jesus by asking: “And who is my neighbor?” The answer that Jesus gave was a parable, commonly called “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37).
This is the story of a traveler who was robbed and left for dead by his attackers. A priest saw the man but passed by on the other side of the road, presumably in order to maintain ritual purity. A Levite also refused to assist the beaten, half-dead traveler. Finally a passing Samaritan stopped and gave assistance, going beyond even the normal assistance by offering to cover the expenses for the man as he recovered in a local inn.
What is often missed by modern readers of this story is the deep hatred that Jews felt for Samaritans in those days, and it is worth looking at the cause of that hatred to place the parable in context.
Many of us feel that anyone different from us culturally, linguistically, or religiously is worthy of at least some degree of disregard.
In our local community, some blacks from America feel some superiority over blacks from the Caribbean; some Hispanics from Cuba feel they deserve some entitlement over Hispanics from Puerto Rico or other places; and, certainly, Northerners are superior to Southerners. Really?
No one religion has a copyright on God. All religions have neighbors, and in the wisdom of the first members and practitioners of all religions, the chief principle is love amongst neighbors, and peace with neighbors is closely aligned with love. For one cannot love God without loving peace, and one cannot experience true peace without embracing God. For when one understands love, the duty to respect others becomes of paramount importance.
All of the major religions of the world have addressed the treatment of humans to others. Brahmanism teaches, “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause pain if done to you.”
The Hindu Scriptures read exactly the same as those in Brahmanism in this regard. Judaism teaches in Leviticus 19:18 “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” In the Talmud is declared, “What is hateful to you, do not (do) to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.”
Buddhism, which predates the birth of Jesus Christ by approximately 300 years says, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself find hurtful.” In Islam, the Quran reads, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
Then in Christianity, the New Testament states in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
This is such an important lesson that the same or similar words are spoken in the New Testament five other times (Mark 12:31, Luke 19:18, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8).
Therefore, it seems to me that we all belong to each other as created beings of God. It is apparent to me that no one considered holy possesses the whole truth about anything. It is clear to me that nobody individually sees perfectly the entire revelation of ultimate reality. We are all a part of the whole.
Dr. Charles Adams, senior pastor of Hartford Memorial Church in Detroit says, “The university has no exclusivity on truth, and the military has no copyright on power. Neither does the church have a patent on God.”
Just as we love ourselves, we learn to love everybody, even those who are different than we are. If this principle is ever fully embraced, there may not be a need for Republican, Democratic, or Independent party affiliations. What one party desires would be what everybody desires, that everyone shares in what God has provided.
Ultimate good transcends race, religion, politics, geography, gender and age. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and our neighbors deserve and perhaps desire our love.
Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board.
He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinstries.com