What does it mean to love your neighbor? For young adults in the Church of the Brethren, that was worth a whole weekend of study this summer. The theme scripture was Matthew 22:36-39, in which Jesus reminds the scribe of the law to love your neighbor as yourself—a commandment recorded in Leviticus 19:17-18 and utterly familiar to his listeners.
And who is our neighbor? Well, we know the answer to that question, since the story of the good Samaritan is just about the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. The moral of the story: Be like the Samaritan.
In my focus on the Samaritan, however, I realize that I have neglected the man in the ditch. Often he’s just a prop for the lesson. Instead, I have always identified with the helpers. In fact, I have automatically identified with the helpers. But Jesus says I am to love my neighbor and my neighbor is the Samaritan, which makes me the person who needs help.
What would it mean to put myself in the victim’s position and listen to what he needs? Not to solve the problem as if he were me, but to learn what it is like to be him? To really see this man and learn his name? Could this be why the commandment includes the words as yourself?
The rabbis use a metaphor to help us better understand this connection between neighbor and self: If someone is chopping food and in doing so cuts one hand, does he then avenge himself on the hand which held the knife by cutting that hand too?
We are one body. If we take vengeance on our neighbors, we punish ourselves. We love our neighbor as ourselves because our neighbor is part of us.
As we see our country and our world disagreeing dramatically about who this neighbor is, studying scripture matters. If anybody tries to tell you that discussing these things is too political and not religious enough, then take them to church. Take them to the Young Adult Conference. Read them Leviticus and Matthew— and Mark and Luke and Romans and Galatians and Ephesians and James. Show them that actually we cannot be holy if we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. The Bible tells us so.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.