Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The question came after a discussion about the greatest commandments, in which Jesus iterated the golden rule “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus responded to the question by telling a story (he did that a lot, I think that’s why I’m drawn to him). It is a story we’ve all heard. It is the story of The Good Samaritan. It goes like this: a man falls into the hands of robbers and is left stripped of his clothes and badly beaten. Two local travelers, from the majority religious class, come across the ailing man but pass on the other side of the road. A third traveler, a foreigner from a minority religious group, took pity on the man, bandaged his wounds, and saw that he was cared for. After telling the story, Jesus asked the teacher of the law who of the three travelers was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers. The teacher of the law responded, “The one who had mercy.”
I love America and I’ve been very fortunate to live in different parts of this wonderfully diverse country. For the first 21 years of my life, I lived in the rural Midwest. I then spent four years in New England splitting my time between New Hampshire and Boston. I eventually landed in Los Angeles, my home for the past eleven years. I have lived in red counties and blue counties. I’ve lived in small towns and big cities.
The events of the past week have so many people talking about the divide: the divide between religious conservatives vs. progressive liberals, the divide between rural America and urban America, the divide between the working class and the elite class. The divide between white Americans and everybody else. I have friends and family, whom I love dearly, on both sides of the divide. Some are thrilled with the outcome of the election. Some are very very worried.
This election has challenged me to think about this “greatest commandment” about loving one’s neighbor. It’s not easy when it feels like there is so much at stake. It is not easy when my neighbor does not think like me, speak like me, act like me, or love like me. The temptation is to stay on the other side of the road, to stay on my side of the divide.
We justify our position by claiming our convictions. But here is what I’m learning: Conviction without mercy is simply ideology. And ideology is the most dangerous threat to our world for it keeps us from seeing our neighbors in need.
Unity will not come from one person at the top. It will only come when we learn to love our neighbor. And if we can’t learn to love our neighbor, the least we can do is show them a little mercy.
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A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES