You have probably heard Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. It is a familiar story, as is the basic point it makes: we ought to love our neighbors. The man to whom Jesus told the story knew this. But the really tricky part is uncovered by his question, “Who is my neighbor?” The story Jesus tells encourages us to shift from asking this question, which is usually a way of dividing up people into those whom we need to treat decently and those whom we do not, to thinking about what it means to be a neighbor to others. It means we treat them with value and dignity, just as we would like to be treated, and we meet their needs in concrete ways as we are able to do so.
Earlier in the summer I happened to hear a bit of a speech at one of the political conventions as I made a quick trip to the store. The speaker said something that caught my attention: “We are all neighbors. And we must love neighbors as ourselves.”
“Exactly!” I thought. What a rare sentiment to hear expressed at a political convention and what need there is for us to remember it. A bit further on in the same speech, however, the speaker was indulging in mockery and contempt for his political opponent (and encouraging the audience to join in). It should be fairly clear that mockery and contempt are not part of the love of our neighbors.
It is easy to spot inconsistency in others but much harder to detect it in ourselves. The constant struggle for those who would follow Jesus is to let what he calls us to permeate every area of our lives, not setting aside certain domains — like politics — where we live by different rules.
This election season let us examine our hearts. Let the way we engage with politics be an example of the way faith changes us and not an exception to it. Donald Trump is your neighbor. Hillary Clinton is your neighbor. One, or perhaps both, of them might make you mad or make your skin crawl. Try praying for them and see what God does in your heart. Their supporters are your neighbors, too. Pray for them and treat them with respect. Consider the model set for us by the good Samaritan. Go and do likewise.
John Milliken is with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.