Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)
Relate: Last night I had dinner with two couples. In one couple the husband is French and the wife Ukrainian. In the other couple the husband is German and the wife is an African-American from New York. The French/Ukrainian couple have two beautiful brilliant little boys. The older (4) of these can speak and read in Russian, French, English, and Turkish. I can guarantee you his reading in English, his third language, is better than pretty much every four old I’ve met with one or two possible exceptions. This afternoon I will be having lunch with a couple who have recently moved to my city. The husband is Turkish and the wife Syrian. Tomorrow evening I will be teaching a small class that has four Turkish women and one Kurdish man. Among them there is family represented in Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Canada.
For me, considering people from every part of the world and from every nationality and language as my neighbor is an easy thing to do. In many ways it is true. While there aren’t many Americans here in Antep, there are loads of NGO’s with Europeans and Asians who have given up so much and care for people they have recognize as their neighbors long before they ever hopped on a plane. It is easy to empathize because I pretty much did the same thing.
What is hard for me is loving and recognizing as neighbors those who believe differently than me. I am not talking about those with vastly different views. No, that isn’t the issue. I am talking about people who agree with me on many things, people who come from the same cultural background and set of social mores, who then disagree on one specific point that I believe is crucial. This has come to the foreground in these past few days since the American president (I do not consider him mine not as a political statement so much as because Turkey is my home, the US is my past) signed an executive order banning people I know and love and respect and care about from being able to ever visit my old home until he gives a personal say so. While the specific executive order I can understand and respect (even if I do not agree), some of the rhetoric I have seen by those defending it gets my blood boiling. I mean, it really gets my blood boiling. I have to admit, it has been hard to remember that some of those people posting such things are my neighbors and people from my past that I really do love and respect and care deeply for. While I do believe I have done my best to keep discussion civil and informed, I will be the first to admit that I have spent far, far too much time and stress on pointless debates on social platforms that will never be conducive to creating anything but more anger, stress, and frustration on all sides.
React: If you were to look at a Jew and Samaritan from the time of Jesus you wouldn’t really be able to notice the difference from physical features alone. Ethnically they were almost identical. With their religious views they were far more similar than they were different. The divergence came from a few generations back. When the Jews went into exile in Babylon, the exiles ended up developing a much more racist and elitist platform to their views. It was during the exile that the feeling behind this famous saying became part of their identity: “God, I thank you that you that you have not created me a dog, a woman, or a gentile.” While they were in Babylon learning more and more to create an unsurpassable barrier between Jew and gentile, those who remained home were falling into their own error. They were integrating Jews and foreigners who had been brought in to help repopulate the area. The problem was, they were also integrating some of those foreign beliefs into their religion. Can you imagine the horror of the elitist purists when they return from exile to find that their neighbors who never left home had instead left the true path for some hodgepodge mix that became the Samaritan religion?
There is no hatred as bitter as between family and hatred between Jew and Samaritan was like two cousins in blood feud. Into this picture a Jewish scholar asks Jesus what the greatest commandment. Jesus answers, “Love God, love your neighbor.” The scholar asks a follow up, “Who is my neighbor.” Jesus answers this question by sharing the now famous story of the good Samaritan. The Jew’s neighbor is the Samaritan who looks just like them but believes vastly different. My neighbor are those Americans who in fanatical ignorance spew hate towards my Syrian friends and neighbors with whom I am trying to share the love of Jesus. I have to admit, I have not been nearly as loving to such neighbors as I should be. What about you… who is your neighbor? How can you show them love today?
Forgive me for not loving like You love. Forgive me for that uncontrollable urge to always be right and the need I feel I have to correct the wrong and inform the ignorant. Forgive me for not letting a matter drop and leaving it in your hands. Help me to understand that it is not my responsibility to fix all the problems in the world right here and right now. My job is to pray and trust and then love. Help me to remember that it is kindness that leads to repentance. Help me to love through kindness even those who consider me and my friends their enemies. Help me to not forget that they also are… all are… my neighbor.