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Difficulties of loving one's neighbor

August 27, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
Sometimes it's really difficult to love your neighbor.

When the Pharisee asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan.

In that story, a Jewish man traveling alone on the Jericho Road was attacked by robbers, stripped and left for dead. Two men came by, separately, and both passed the man without helping. They were a Jewish priest and a Levite (a priest's assistant).

Then, a Samaritan came along and helped the man. The Hebrews despised the Samaritans because they were a mixed-race people. The way my pastor put it in a recent sermon, the Pharisees listening to Jesus' parable probably cringed in horror when he said the Samaritan put his cloak on the beaten and naked man and placed him on his donkey. Ugh, touched by a Samaritan! Poor guy!

In the end, however, the Pharisee admitted the Samaritan was a better neighbor than the priest or Levite.

So, who are our neighbors? From this story, we can assume our neighbor is anyone we come across who is hurting, who needs help, who needs clothes, who needs a place to stay (the Samaritan took the man to an inn and paid for his lodging).

In today's society, so many of us try to determine if a person is blameless before deciding to help him or her. But was the Jewish man who was beaten blameless? Maybe. We don't know. Surely, he was not a perfect man. Some might say he should never have been traveling that road by himself, because it was known to be a robbers' haven.

Jesus says nothing of the Jewish man's character, just that he had been beaten, robbed, stripped and left half-dead. It was clear he needed help, and it was shameful that the priest and Levite looked the other way, while the loathed Samaritan lent a hand.

But aren't my neighbors also the self-righteous priest and Levite? Shouldn't we also love them and treat them as we would like to be treated?

We can also say the Samaritan is our neighbor, the one who is despised by society for whatever reasons, be it race, class, position or intelligence.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it's easier to "love" a stranger in need than the yahoo next door, or even the difficult individual living under our own roof?

I've been trying to teach Emma the Golden Rule, to love her neighbor as herself, or, as I paraphrase it for her, to treat others the way she wants to be treated. If she is at a friend's house and grabs his toy away, I ask her if she would like him to do that at her house. It's still abstract for her, but the more examples that occur (and, oh, there are lots at this age!), the more it is sinking in.

But the best way to teach a child any proper behavior is to model that behavior. I find it difficult, however, because it's not as if taking in a beaten, strange man off the street is a viable option when you have a little one at home.

In general, I am a loving, trusting person. I have always enjoyed helping people. But just when it is most important to model the Golden Rule, I feel compelled instead to circle the wagons and shut myself off from anyone who might possibly cause some type of harm to my child.

I don't want to lead a fearful, sheltered life, nor do I want that for Emma. At the same time, I want to keep Emma out of harm's way.

I know in my heart, there is a balance that can be achieved, and that many others before me have achieved it. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!


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