It’s a good question. One that we should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. As is my usual method, a number of instances which brought this question to mind coalesce, and I realize that God is asking me to probe more deeply.
The Gospel today was from Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. As you recall, Jesus relates the story of the man who is beaten and robbed and left by the side of the road. Both a priest and Levite pass by, apparently following ritual purity laws, moving to the other side of the road.
A Samaritan sees the man and comes to his aid. “Who is the neighbor?” Jesus asks. Of course the answer is obvious. As our rector said, the question asked by the lawyer,”Who is my neighbor?” also seems obvious and unnecessary to ask in the first place.
But, I can see the lawyer’s dilemma. We don’t treat everyone the same, so perhaps not are our neighbor. Yet Jesus seems to imply that there is but one answer: everyone is my neighbor.
Unfortunately it was not and is not so clear to us, I don’t think.
It was clear to William James in his classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience. In a lecture on saintliness, he points out that saints are noted for their treatment of all persons with equal love and charity. Unlike the rest of us who are all too willing to fight “fire with fire” and treat others with the same meanness they may treat us.
James is unwilling to let go of the saints being the better angels here. In a rare insight into the human psyche, he claims, regarding the tendency to categorize humans into “good, bad, and in the middle:”
“We have no right to speak of human crocodiles and boa-constrictors as of fixedly incurable beings. We know not the complexities of personality, the smouldering emotional fires, the other facets of the character polyhedron, the resources of the subliminal region. St. Paul long ago made our ancestors familiar with the idea that every soul is virtually sacred. Since Christ died for us all without exception. . . .”
Yet, far seeing as his sentiments are, we need look no further than scripture to find plenty of evidence that suggests that we must too be wary.
St. Jude says this in Jude 17:20-25:
When there are some who have doubts, reassure them; when there are some to be saved from the fire, pull them out; but there are others to whom you must be kind with great caution, keeping your distance even from the outside clothing which is contaminated by vice.
I’m not sure what is being presented here. But clearly it does not sound like Jesus’ words to the lawyer, nor that all are our neighbors without fail. Jude seems to suggest that we must be careful of the truly evil among us, keeping our distance as he says.
It confuses me assuredly.
But it reflects certainly who I am.
One need not spend a long time on this blog to realize I have very unkind things to say about any number of people I consider to be self-serving evil presences among us. We can start there.
But I really got to thinking about this after the latest rounds of excrement to exit the mouth of Mel Gibson. We have long since decided that we no longer can watch Mr. Gibson’s movies, given his past expressions of racist thinking. It seems now that this man considers all who are not white to be something scornful and not quite as good as himself.
It’s all ironic given that Jesus was a Jew. And with all due respect for Mr. Gibson’s ultra orthodox positions, most scholars are pretty clear that Jesus had no desire nor intent to become something else. He seemed intent on correcting Judaism, not starting a new religion altogether.
Given that Mr. Gibson has noted his displeasure with Jews, African Americans and Latinos, I suspect he harbors no love for Arabs, Eskimos or American Native peoples, to say nothing of Asians, Indians and Greenlanders.
Overall, I’m inclined to think rather poorly of the man, again as I say, so ironic, given his ultra conservative position as a Roman Catholic. I don’t know as I’ve heard an explanation as to why he had an affair, a child out of wedlock, and is either in the midst of, or legally divorced. None of these comport with the rigid believes of the right wing Roman Catholic. I have no idea whether he receives communion, but those who espouse his positions regularly call for the barring of various politicians from receiving, based only on their voting record on abortion.
I figure, based on the Samaritan story that I shouldn’t think so ill of Mr. Gibson. I would like to think I would assist him should I find him bloodied and beaten in the street. But I’m not so sure I’d invite him in for dinner. Jude suggests perhaps that is a wise choice on my part, but, frankly between Jesus and Jude, I’m opting that Jesus carries the weight.