And Who is My Neighbor?

Posted on September 1, 2020 by Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
By Kathryn Mary Lohre

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” We, too, are prone to ask this of Jesus – perhaps not in so many words, but with the same intentions. Like the lawyer, we try to arbitrate who is worthy of mercy and love, of neighbor justice. i  Too often we are willing to consider only those who live in closest proximity to us, or whose beliefs are most proximate to ours, as our neighbors. If only we could choose!
In his treatment of the parable, Martin Luther defined our neighbor as “any human being, especially one who needs our help. ii  There is no loophole. Without exception, everyone is our neighbor. The boundless mercy and love of our Creator cannot be contained by the boundaries we create to divide ourselves. What is more is that our neighbors need us, and we need them.

Extending God’s mercy and love to all those in need is central to our Christian vocation, though it is certainly not the exclusive domain of the body of Christ. Our neighbors of other religions and worldviews, too, are dedicated to the well-being of creation and the alleviation of human suffering. Though other religious and spiritual convictions or philosophies may undergird our neighbors’ actions, we share a commitment to the common good. As people, we are bound in our suffering and in our service.

This is critically important in a time when the Oikoumene, the whole inhabited earth, is infected and affected by COVID-19, racism, and injustice. In times of all-consuming death and devastation, our healing practice must be all-inclusive, and our treatment plans must be all-encompassing. To guide and encourage us in these complicated theological and practical matters, we can look to the recently issued joint document of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), “Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity: A Christian Call to Reflection and Action During COVID-19 and Beyond.

Solidarity as the body of Christ and with our neighbors of other religions and worldviews is the most effective means for healing all that ails this wounded world. It is also the antidote to our despair. If we read the parable of the Good Samaritan closely, we come to understand that it is precisely through our God-given neighbors that we most readily receive the generosity of God’s mercy and love. Being a neighbor and receiving the neighborliness of others made in God’s image, not only heals our bodies, but buoys our faith and gives us hope. This spiritual refreshment is precisely what sustains us as we work with our neighbors to bind the wounds of the whole inhabited earth, God’s beloved neighborhood.


i. “Neighbor justice” is a term proposed in “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action,” a social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Neighbor justice is rooted in the biblical directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This term expresses the idea that faith is active in love and love necessarily calls for justice in relationships and in the structures of society. Neighbor justice is meeting neighbors’ needs across the globe and in our local communities.
ii. Martin Luther, “Letters to the Galatians, 1535,” Luther’s Works.

 

Kathryn Mary Lohre serves as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment for the ELCA