Our church community in Salt Lake City has been going through a series titled “Love God, Love Neighbor.” We’ve been going through Jesus’ famous response to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus of course turns the questions back to the man asking, “What is written in the law?” the man responds by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It appears the man who asks the question — described as either a lawyer or expert of religious law — does not like Jesus’ response very much and so he asks another question. “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus’ response to the question is perhaps one of the most well-known parables in the Bible: that of the Good Samaritan. But the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is a question we must still wrestle with today, as distressing and upsetting as it most definitely will be.
Who is my neighbor? If we are to examine the parable of the Good Samaritan it appears that Jesus wants to make it clear that our neighbors are everyone, especially — perhaps even specifically — our enemies. So another way of asking the question is, “Who is my enemy?” When I confront the question on a personal level, I realize that even though my neighbors or enemies are perhaps atypical from the norm, I am still called to love them.
Who are my enemies? For me, it’s simple really. My enemies are politicians, Congress, rich people, Wall Street Bankers, rich Christians, and the most hated form of all: “rich, white, Christian politicians.” I jest, but it’s not too far off. If I were to see a member of what I would call the “hegemonic establishment of the empire” or HEOTE for short, dying on the side of the road, I would walk by with joy. Congress in my mind — can go to hell.
I can empathize with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, with minorities, with people of differing genders and sexual orientations. But not the rich yuppie who lives on the Hill, who is against immigration reform, and in defense of laws like Florida’s Stand Your Ground. These people I cannot empathize with. The people who, as Kanye says are, “Prolly all in the Hamptons, bragging ‘bout what they made.” These people are myneighbors and the ones Jesus calls me to love. And it bugs the crap out of me.
Why are the rich and elite my biggest enemies? Perhaps because to me they represent the opposite of what I believe to be the Gospel’s call to downward mobility. Or perhaps I am just jealous of their fame and success.
For me Jesus’ response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” is a very tough response indeed. The central question here being: how do I love and serve the very people who I abhor the most, especially when I disagree with them? How do I love them even at times when I feel righteous in my hatred for the way in which I feel they have misrepresented or misconstrued the Gospel and I (of course) am right?
This is obviously the genius in the way Jesus responds to this whole exchange. Because we all have neighbors and we all have enemies. We all have people groups and social classes and even races that are hard for us to get along with. And yet this is the call of a Christian, to love one’s enemies.
I taught Sunday school recently and I asked the same question, “Who is your neighbor?” The answers mostly came from a literal understanding, “Bob” the kids said. Or, “The people who lived next to us,” they said. But when probed a little deeper and asked to substitute “neighbors” with “enemies” the answers went to real names. “Mikey in school is a real bully,” one said. Some people even named kids in our church who, conveniently, were not there that week. But it was apparent that even from a young age, we all have neighbors and we all have enemies.
My wife tells me not to hate rich people. She works as a volunteer coordinator for Volunteers of America — specifically, at the Homeless Youth Resource Center. Rich people fund her work she says. They’re not all bad, she says. Stop being so angry, she says. We can’t replace any more windows in this house, she says. She’s probably right. My grandparents are fairly well off — not oil rich well off, but well off enough and they are the most generous people I know. I made it through college because of them. So, I do recognize the why.
The how, however, as in how do I love my neighbor is a question I do not have an answer to. I wish I did. But I don’t. Most days I’m fluctuating between apathy and anger, walking a taut and weary line of judgment and repentance. I do know, that like most things in this Jesus way, the answer starts with the self — confronting the evil in our own heart. Sometimes I am the worst enemy — one hundred percent of the time actually.
I used to blame governments, and churches, and institutions all day long. Now I’ve stuck a piece of tape over my mouth. I’m going to leave it there as a reminder that everything I speak out against has its origin inside.
Who is my neighbor? I am my neighbor. And therefore, I am the first enemy.
Levi Rogers is a writer and coffee roaster out of Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from the University of Utah with degree in English and likes to write poetry and creative non-fiction. He currently attends Missio Dei Community.
Image: Opposing chess pieces, Dima Sobko  / Shutterstock.com