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In the Name of Love

In the Gospel of Luke, a lawyer questions Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He asks. Jesus answers with a question: “What do you find in the law?”

The lawyer answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells him he has answered correctly.

But the lawyer is not satisfied. Because it is one thing to love God, and another thing to love one’s neighbor.

“And who is my neighbor?” he presses.

For an answer, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. And it’s really too bad it’s called the good Samaritan since, at that time, the word “good” and the word “Samaritan” would not be used in the same sentence. Samaritans were viewed by righteous folk as unclean infidels, blasphemers, perverters of the truth.

But this good Samaritan shows love and compassion and goodness.

Who is our neighbor?

In the aftermath of the horror of 9/11, American citizens discovered that we have many neighbors who love us. We discovered that we are neighbor to people we didn’t even know. The Danish proverb “Shared sorrow is halved sorrow” may not be exactly true, but to know we are not alone in grief is a comfort. All who grieved with brokenhearted Americans became our neighbors.

Our president is fond of talking about “the enemy.” He is fond of talking about routing out the enemy and bringing him to justice. Furthermore, he is enabled to act by a congressional decision made under his father’s administration during the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s.

It is true that President Bush has agreed to seek the approval of Congress before striking Iraq. But he seeks to have the questions settled before the November elections. Any effective weapons-inspection team—provided it were allowed access to Iraq—would take far longer to determine the type and extent of Iraq’s weapons.

So the president and several of our lawmakers want to make a preemptive strike, a show of military might in the country that our economic might—in the form of the Iraqi embargo—has ravaged for years.

Who is our neighbor?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a man is beaten and robbed and left for dead on the highway. We talk a lot about the Samaritan who came along to lend his aid. But we never talk about the man who robbed and bloodied the victim he left lying to die.

Whose neighbor was he? Why did he violate every code of neighborliness and then walk on, oblivious or perhaps uncaring about what he had done?

Who is our neighbor?

Like it or not, Jesus called for peace. Jesus called for love. In a world hell-bent on destruction, love is a definite losing proposition. Jesus took the world hell-bent on destruction right into his own body and he died.

But love survived.

The words of Jesus survived that crucifixion and live on as resurrection mandates: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What are people, people who identify themselves as Christians, supposed to do with this commandment?

We cannot escape it and it is not an easy commandment. Love is a risk and a lot of times those who love lose. A lot of times those who love get hurt. Love makes people powerful and defenseless at the same time.

So how do we live, one year after 9/11, if we are both citizens with broken hearts and adherents to a love-based faith?

I don’t know all the ways that question can be answered, but I do know this: We cannot separate our religious faith and our political views.

We cannot both support the planting of peace poles and the invading of Iraq. It can’t be done. We cannot ask God to bless America and then kill civilians—little children, nursing mothers, frail old men or whomever the ordnance finds in its way.

Christianity is not part of a religious tradition that sanctifies a holy war. And the wars that have been fought in the name of the church—the crusades in which one eyewitness recorded that soldiers rode in blood up to their stirrups—stand as marks of shame in Church history.

Christianity is not part of a religious tradition that demonizes people based on race or ethnicity or religion. The teachings of Jesus reached universally. And whenever the Bible has been used to justify the humiliation of a people—as it was in Germany’s persecution of Jews or the United States enslavement of African-Americans—the gospel of love is denied.

If we are willing as American citizens to fly the flag and ask God to bless America, should those who identify themselves as Christian be any less willing to cry out against violence and commit ourselves to making peace?

Not that peace is a reasonable expectation. Not that love is a reasonable expectation. It does seem that on this side of paradise, at least, we will not live in a world of peace or a world of love.

And yet, to love, to make peace—unreasonable requests, indeed—is also the essence, even if not the history, of Christianity.

If that is taken seriously, if it is more than a social convention or a security blanket, then Christians must wrestle with what it means when faith and political policies clash head-on. Is silence enough? The French writer Albert Camus said that there are no innocent bystanders. And if that’s true, then silence convicts us.

We are called to give voice. We are called to take a stand. It is the church’s legacy and charge, that new and unreasonable commandment. Jesus makes it clear what we are to do, and then challenges us to find out how to do it: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.


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