Who Is My Neighbor?
We (the mywhy.tv team) are not experts in foreign relations or sociology. We avoid politics at all costs, but we are interested in culture. One of the most urgent topics in our culture right now is the situation with the Syrian refugees. What should we do? Where should the American Christian stand on this issue?
Jesus dispatches these questions in Luke 10:25-37. When a Jewish lawyer brandished this question. Who is my neighbor?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 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.’ ”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 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. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c]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.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Let’s break it down.
In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to understand the historical context and the cultural implications of each of the characters.
There is no certain description of the character or background of the victim in Jesus’ parable. Apparently Jesus didn’t care about the surrounding details of this man’s life. The fact that he was a human being was sufficient grounds to extend help to him.
But both of the men in the conversation, Jesus and the Lawyer, were Jews.
Who were the Samaritans, and what was their relationship to the Jews?
In short, the Samaritans were bitter enemies to the Israelites.
In 722 B.C.E. the Assyrians conquered the Northern kingdom of Israel in the land of Samaria. The Assyrians proceeded to destroy the kingdom, exile the leaders and scatter the Israelites. They injected foreigner populations from Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, Sepharvaim and Babylon in hopes that the fragmented populations would not unite to rise up against the Assyrian leadership. What happened then was that the various people groups ended up intermarrying with the remnant Israelites. They created a religion that was a sort of Jewish pagan amalgam. The Jews from Judea despised the pseudo Judaism of the Samaritans and a hatred between the peoples began to take root. This is documented partly in 2 kings 17:24 – 40.
In 625 B.C.E. The Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, besieged Jerusalem (see the book of Daniel), the cultural center of Judaism . Remember that the Babylonians had intermarried with the Samaritans, so now the Samaritans were not only seen as religious dissenters but as political traitors.
The hostility compounded for Almost 700 years and was still raging when Jesus stood up in Jeruselum and delivered the parable of the good Samaritan to a Jewish audience.
The people where divided along religious and political lines. Jesus erased those lines and redrew them along lines of mercy and the withholding of mercy, saying that whoever extends mercy is your neighbor. Jesus summarily obliterates distinctions of race, religion, politics and history and penetrates the situation with a mandate that is crystal clear: Extend mercy to those in need, no questions asked.
According to Amnesty International Around 220,000 people have been killed and 12.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. More than 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced.
Syrianrefugees.eu states that an estimated 9.5 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. And over 3 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbours Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria.
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is home for 160,000 refugees who have escaped
The US has accepted 2,174 Syrian refugees. Canada resettled 3,089 Syrian refugees between 1 January 2014 and 3 November 2015. However, recently elected prime minister Justin Trudeau has committed to resettling 25,000 Syrians by the end of the year. Reported The Guardian.
More than half of the US’s governors have said they will no longer provide placement for Syrian refugees, arguing that they pose too great a risk to national security.
Is there risk involved in accepting Syrian refugees? Yes, definitely. Is that sufficiant reason to deny access? No. There is risk involved in everything in life. Denying access to the Syrian Refugees is inhumane.
The spirit of the United States is symbolized by one of our favorite Icons. The Statue of Liberty.
The sculpture bares this plaque.
How can we let the huddled masses drown in the sea in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty? As Americans we must either tear her down or uphold the promise that we made to the world and cast in bronze.
In the course of our young nations history it has been the generosity and altruism of the American people that has made it a great nation. To mar that legacy because of fear would be a shame.
In conclusion, the course of action as Christians and Americans should be plain: Extend Mercy to our Syrian neighbors. Open the Golden door and let the huddled masses come in.