When Jesus talked about the importance of loving our neighbor, someone asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
A traveler was walking on the road to Jericho, and was attacked by bandits who robbed him and beat him and left him on the side of the road. A priest was walking down the road, and saw the man and went over to the other side. A lawyer also ignored the wounded man. But a Samaritan traveling on the same road saw the man, and was moved to compassion. He bound his wounds, and brought the man to an inn, where he continued to care for him overnight, and then paid the innkeeper to care for him as he went on his travels. Then Jesus turned the question around—“Who do you think was neighbor to the man?” The one who showed him compassion.
This story is made compelling by its social context. In the time when Jesus told the story, Samaritans and Jews generally held each other in contempt. They were enemies. Maybe something like Republicans and Democrats these days, only worse. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story, and that certainly must have ruffled feathers. The story was a challenge to the lawyers and priests and their narrow definition of the circle of compassion. The story was a challenge to be neighbors with the people we don’t like, the people on the other side. To treat those neighbors with compassion.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.” In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.
I want to acknowledge that in our age, it is easy to feel hopeless about this vision. It is easy to think of it as an idealistic dream of the sixties. Cynicism has risen, the right wing has fought back against the hopes so hard fought for by Dr. King and others. More and more we see a new individualism and polarization, an abandonment of the poor and vulnerable by those in power. The opposition has become more crafty and deceptive.
But, on some level, that makes no difference at all. The vision of nonviolence is not based on winning, though a victory for good fills us with joy. The vision of nonviolence is based on faithfulness and hope. As Dr. King said,
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
And so, in the midst of the conflict and trouble of our age, may we find the strength and courage to be practitioners of love. In the midst of selfishness and greed, may we find generosity and vision. In the midst of rancor and division, may we remember that we are all one people. May we behold and believe in the possibility of Beloved Community, and work steadfastly to open the doors that all may enter there in. May we always remember, as Dr. King reminded us,
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Quotes from Dr. King from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age, December 1956, in A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and “Where Do We Go From Here,” a 1967 Speech.