The Good Samaritan, Eid Al-Adha and the Love of Our Interfaith Neighbor
“Who is my neighbor?”
This year the lectionary reading the Good Samaritan coincided almost exactly with Eid al-Adha. Christians reading a Jewish parable about the holiest of Muslim holidays provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on and embody what it means to love one’s neighbour.
The Good Samaritan story is so familiar that it’s easy to miss the point thinking we already know it. “Samaritan” in modern culture has become synonymous with “benefactor”, as if the term “good Samaritan” were redundant. But first-century Jews would have heard “good Samaritan” as an oxymoron. The Samaritans were the enemy.
The Samaritans were relatives of the Jews, descendants of Abraham. But after the golden age of David and Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms, essentially with the Samaritans in the north and the Judeans, with Jerusalem as their capital, in the south. They were relatives and neighbors, but also rivals who branched off in different directions and experienced distinct tragedies that they never expected “the other” to understand. They have come to different interpretations of their common ancestral history.
The scandal of small differences! Competing claims to the same history and competing interpretations of faith often generate more frustration and hatred than complete separation.
To be loved out of enmity
A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus prompts him to respond that the essence of the Law is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. But the lawyer insists further, asking “Who is my neighbor?”
With the lawyer’s second question, he is actually asking “Who is not my neighbor? Where can my love and mercy end?
Rather than telling the lawyer whom to love, Jesus invites him into a place of vulnerability to recognize his need to be loved by anyone. It tells the story of a man who was coming down from Jerusalem when robbers ambushed him and left him unconscious in a ditch. A priest and a Levite each pass in front of him without helping him. Finally, a Samaritan sees him and springs into action, dressing his wounds, sheltering him, and paying for his care. Jesus then asks the lawyer who acted as a neighbor, and the lawyer is compelled to acknowledge the mercy of the one he considered “enemy”.
Jesus’ answer encompasses the love of enemies, but it is even more subversive than that. Jesus calls us to recognize that those whom we consider enemies can be neighbors, even rescuers, for we.
Recognizing the kindness of our enemies to we is completely humiliating, opening our hearts to the truth that enmity denies. Jesus invites us to see the humanity of our enemies and to reclaim our own humanity by allowing ourselves to be loved by “the other”. Rivalry dehumanizes, but loving and being loved breaks down divisions and restores the interconnectedness that makes us human.
Love dissolves enmity. “Loving our enemies” means recognizing that we don’t need to be enemies at all.
Anti-Semitic Ways to Miss the Point
The parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to recognize that an abundant and meaningful life is not about defining ourselves to one another, but about living for another.
It is therefore ironic that Christians tend to identify with the Samaritan against the Jewish characters in this story, reproducing the very rivalry between Jews and Samaritans that the parable accuses!
As Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, an expert on the Jewish New Testament, points out, Christians often use this story to contrast Judaism – which they characterize by tribalism and purity laws – with Christianity, characterized by mercy and generosity. without limits. For example, many Christians explain that the priest and the Levite do not stop to help the man in the ditch because that would make them unclean. The implication is that, according to Judaism, cleanliness is more important than compassion.
Dr. Levine debunks this nonsense emphasizing that according to Judaism, nothing is more important than saving a life. Not ritual purity, not Sabbath observance. Nothing.
This story does not accuse Judaism, but rather the failure to live in the full mercy to which Judaism appeals. Jesus calls the lawyer to live by the law of love which Judaism teaches but which also flows from the Spirit in the Samaritan as well as the Jew. Love inspires everyone, regardless of the divisions we build in the rivalry over different understandings of faith and culture.
When Christians don’t recognize this, we put ourselves in rivalry with Judaism, dramatically failing to live in the compassion, humility and empathy that Jesus calls for. Jesus’ explicit call to imitate the Samaritan is an implicit call for us to remember those whom we have not treated as neighbors and to repent of our lack of neighborliness. For Christians, this includes the repentance of anti-Semitism that occurs when we compare Christianity to Judaism.
Eid Al-Adha: sacrificing ego and enmity; Amorous gathering
Last week, Muslims celebrated Eid Al-Adha. Muslims of all nations, colors, languages and interpretations of faith have seen the peace and love of God reflected in the eyes of their neighbors around the world. Side by side, they worshiped God with humility and gratitude.
Eid Al-Adha, the festival of pilgrimage (Hajj) that Muslims are obliged to make at least once in their life, translates into “the festival of sacrifice”. Muslims commemorate how Abraham, patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was willing to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, who Islam says was also willing to die for God. But when God stopped Abraham’s hand, God revealed God’s desire for mercy, not sacrifice.
Humanity’s ancient way of placating false gods born out of fear and rivalry was to sacrifice others. Violence has been given a false veneer of justice under the designation of “sacrifice.” We still worship false gods when we demonize, marginalize, neglect, and kill for security, wealth, power, or a sense of “righteous” identity against others.
When God withholds Abraham’s hand, God calls Abraham, and mankind, out of, not in, sacrifice. Or rather, God is calling us to a new understanding of sacrifice. Rather than sacrificing the vulnerable through greed and exploitation, rather than living in rivalries that puff us up and condemn “the other”, we are called to sacrifice our ways of life and identify with one another. . It is a sacrifice of enmity and ego that is replaced by humility and beloved community.
According to Islam, Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaaba, the house of worship attracting pilgrims from all over the world, after God spared Ishmael’s life. Nothing demonstrates the sacrifice of the ego and the call to love one another better than putting aside differences to come together physically and spiritually, worshiping the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Love beyond borders
The point of The Good Samaritan and Eid Al-Adha is that to live abundantly is to make no distinction between loving God and loving everybody, beyond borders, limits and expectations.
When Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, he says nothing about the Samaritan’s difference in faith. The Samaritan exemplifies not just a good neighbor, but one who has found the key to a joyful and abundant life by loving beyond the bounds of enmity.
It’s not that religious differences don’t matter; they can be catalysts for dialogue and learning. But if religious differences prevent us from loving one another, then they also prevent us from fully loving God, rendering our religions useless.
Eid Al-Adha demonstrates that coming together is itself an act of worship, not just a prerequisite. Muslims, like members of all other religions, have unique and varied interpretations of faith. Yet they meet through religious differences as well as differences in color, language, nationality and ideology. Union beyond differences honors the beauty and wisdom of the God who made humanity in all its diversity precisely so that we can know each other.
It is impossible to pray honestly side by side alongside someone you consider an enemy. It is impossible to wish co-worshippers peace one day and shoot them the next. It is impossible to bow down together one day and live in relationships of excessive wealth and extreme poverty the next.
Thus, the story of the Good Samaritan and the feast of Eid Al-Adha call us to repent of our enmity towards our fellow men in order to fully love God. And loving God is not a matter of ritual or righteous belief, but a matter of compassionate living.
What efforts do we make to love our “enemies”?
How can we “Go and do the same?” How do we live in a spirit of humility and shoulder-to-shoulder gratitude to the all-merciful and all-compassionate God, whether we are Muslims or not?
What efforts do we make to love those whom we have called enemies?
I think of how the Christian Scriptures are interpreted in an anti-Semitic way, leading to prejudice and acts of hatred. I realize that I cannot know without making an effort to learn and commit to listening to my Jewish friends and scholars like Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and adjusting my understanding of the scriptures and its message for my life accordingly. .
I think of the ongoing Islamophobia in my country, fueled by ignorance and the policies of war and imperialism. I think of how my Muslim friends organize events and interfaith dialogues to show the beauty of Islam and its common roots with Judaism and Christianity. I am committed to participating in and amplifying these events. I am also committed to sharing the stories of Muslims around the world, especially those who live in countries under constant threat from US bombs and drones.
I think of the racist, sexist, queerphobic and shameful interpretations of Christianity that devastate so many lives. I pledge to repair the damage of murderous theology by promoting life-giving theologyrecognizing that theology is only life-giving when it is a tool and not a prerequisite for Love.
I pray for love across religions, across ideologies, across issues that can be debated but should never be hated. I pray for a love that opens my eyes to the beauty and needs of the people around me. I pray that love will humble me, that I can recognize love from unexpected sources.
How are you going to “go and do the same”?
What can we do together?
Pictures: 1. “Love Thy Neighbor, Without Exception” by Joe Flood via Flickeravailable through Creative Commons License. 2. Prime Minister’s statement on Eid Al-Adha via Flickr.
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