On Saturday, George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin. On Twitter, people were outraged, mournful, sarcastic, and victorious. "Justice has been declared." "Justice has been mocked." An unarmed boy was killed, his life snuffed out. A man thought shooting a gun might make him safe, but he ruined more lives than he could know. The lawsuit, heavily watched by the media and the world, raised questions about racism, our judicial system, and just how fearful of our neighbors we really are.
What I keep thinking about is this: a lawyer once asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus (like he usually did) turned around and asked a question of his own: "What do you read in the Law?" The lawyer answered correctly, the good student that he was: "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus agrees, telling the lawyer, "do this and you will live."
But then the gospel of Luke tells us something important about the lawyer, the one asking the question about eternal life, right living, and pleasing God. In chapter 10, right after Jesus told him he was correct, the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus: "and who is my neighbor?"
Jesus, instead of giving a succinct answer, launched into a parable (like he usually did). This is a famous one, a story that surely most of us could recite if called upon: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the tale of the priest and the Levite, the good and holy people of the Book, passing by a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Later, the poor man is helped by a Samaritan nobody, a shocking thought in that day and age. After he tells the story Jesus asks the lawyer: "which one of these three, do you think, proved to be a good neighbor to the man who fell in among the robbers?" The lawyer replies: "the one who showed him mercy." Jesus, who had no interest in justifications, then put a mighty responsibility on the shoulders of that one lawyer:
Go, and do likewise.
What does this mean for us in our day? The question of who our neighbor is seems more important than ever, as does the spirit of the question itself. The narratives consuming our national consciousness lately have been full of questions of justice: the Zimmerman trial, the Paula Deen debacle, the Bangladesh factory collapse—leave us wondering: what do these events say about our level of complicity in broken systems? About how well we are doing at our task of loving our neighbors?
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