Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

World CitizenI am prejudiced. I admit it. I wish I wasn’t, I don’t like it, and as much as I hate to see it in myself, it is true.

My husband, son and I recently made the cross country move from South Orange County, California, to Tennessee. We made several overnight stops on our drive. Before departing for our final day of driving, we searched for a restaurant where we could grab a quick and easy breakfast. I won’t name the city or the restaurant, but suffice it to say that the place we went to had a large all-you-can-eat buffet. We were somewhat shocked at what we observed – nearly everyone in the restaurant appeared unhealthy and very overweight. Though I expected the usual breakfast fare for breakfast, I was taken aback by the greasy, fat-laden food. I was so spoiled in Orange County! I was used to having healthy food options that oftentimes included gluten-free bread, organic fruits and vegetables and cage-free eggs. I know, I know, it sounds so snooty, doesn’t it?

This wasn’t my first exposure to other parts of the country, but even though I’ve frequented this region of the U.S. many times before, I was still appalled at the type and amount of food people were putting into their bodies. I know that many people consider Californians “fruits and nuts” partly because of their notoriously healthy lifestyles. Some of this stereotype is true: There is a gym in virtually every neighborhood, and because of the beautiful weather people are often seen outside walking, running, and biking. Though there are downsides to living in South Orange County – the high cost of living, the fast and stressful pace, the traffic, etc. – I have always appreciated the culture of health that predominates in that part of the country.

When I recognized the ugly prejudice welling up in myself in the restaurant, I sensed the Lord asking me, “Just who in the world do you think you are?” I agreed with Him. Who am I to judge what anyone else does, how anyone else looks or how anyone else acts? Who am I to approve or disapprove of anyone?

Unfortunately, harboring negative thoughts about people, whether they are based on race, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, level of education, socioeconomic status or on any other characteristic we assign to a particular group of people, is dangerous and can even be deadly. Prejudices and stereotypes that are never questioned or challenged but rather nurtured and encouraged can result in discrimination and, in the most extreme cases, marginalization and genocide.

Prior to our move, I confessed my concern about the cultural differences between our old home and our new home to one of my spiritual advisors. She reminded me that if you strip away a person’s exterior – their education, their possessions, their career, etc. – deep down we are all the same and we will all be held to the same standard when we stand naked before God. Intellectually, I know this is true. The Lord has no favorites – He loves us all just the same, and He will judge us all just the same. In light of this truth, how can I change my attitude so that I will see people who may be different from me the way Jesus sees them?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Jesus told this parable in response to a question posed by “an expert in the law”:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

Jesus answers the man’s question using a parable. In this parable, known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”, Jesus describes how a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten and left half-dead. When first a priest and later a Levite, both supposedly godly men, saw the injured man they passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan saw the man and had compassion for him:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Interestingly, Jesus told this parable knowing that the Jews and the Samaritans deeply hated each other. The Jews considered themselves Abraham’s pure descendants and therefore superior to the Samaritans, a mixed race produced after Israel’s exile when northern kingdom Jews intermarried with other peoples. Nevertheless, the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy to his fellow man.

I love how Jesus doesn’t pull any punches – it is not sufficient to love and care for only those who are like us or who we are comfortable with, but rather he commands that we love and show mercy to all of God’s children.

I once volunteered for Amnesty International at a U2 concert. AI provided its volunteers with t-shirts that read, “Citizen of the World”. The slogan reminds me that, though we may be proud of our nationality, our ethnicity, our religion, etc., ultimately we are all just human beings created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father.

When I perceive others in a negative light, it is my problem and not the other person’s. They are not the ones who needs to work on their attitude – I am. As with any time the Holy Spirit convicts me that my thoughts are offensive to God, I must go to Jesus and surrender my preconceived ideas and prejudices to Him and ask for their removal.

Just as Jesus saw straight into the heart of the “expert in the law” and corrected any false notions he may have had about who his neighbor is, He will work on my heart to help me see all people as my neighbor. In the same way, I pray that others will view me not as a “fruity and nutty” Californian but rather as a sister in Christ, a fellow “Citizen of the World”.

The David Crowder band sings about How He Loves us all.

 

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