The Neighbourly Neighbour

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

Most rational thinking in the public square is really quite emotional. The religious condemn their critics. The relativists ridicule the religious. The powerful condemn their adversaries. Everyone loathes their enemies.

So much reasoning is expressed with such intense emotion.

We rarely see contrasting worldviews engaged in civil conversation without an excess of emotion, a show of contempt and more than a hint of prejudice.

Perhaps we are not capable of such high rationality simply because we are not Vulcan. We are not purely creatures of reason; but of instinct, emotion and socially conditioned preferences.

We are moved by our conclusions as powerfully as we are moved towards them by our experience. This doesn’t mean that we can’t rise above ourselves to think reasonably. But it does mean that some humility is needed when we share our convictions with each other.

This is why I think Jesus’s summary of Christian living—loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself—is such a complete paradigm for thinking in the public square.

It’s complete because it moves thinking from being rational or religious to being radically relational.

Rational thinking permits you to claim freedom from personal preference, psychological motivations and cultural conditioning. Religious thinking permits you to claim autonomy from social accountability, intellectual integrity and just plain humility.

Jesus’s pattern for thinking and living is relational because it begins by demanding love for your neighbour. It means that my neighbour does not need to agree with me before I am loving to them. It means that disagreeing with someone does not give us the right to reject them; and loving someone does not spare us the responsibility to be honest with them.

To be loving without thinking is to be a little irresponsible. To be thinking without loving is to be a little ineffective. In God’s way of thinking, we are most loving when we are most truthful and we are most reasonable when we are most loving.

It’s radical because it makes neighbours out of our adversaries. When Jesus offered the paradigm to a teacher of the law, he was asked, “And, who is my neighbour?”

He replied with a parable that made a Samaritan a better neighbour than a priest and a Levite. It was a shockingly subversive thing to say because Jewish and Samaritan people were known to be neighbours without being neighbourly.

Even in our country of identities drawn from religion, culture, caste, language, class and custom, we are socially conditioned to trade hostilities with our neighbours.

In this climate of suspicion, a true neighbour, the good samaritan, is someone who shows you radical kindness when you expect nothing but hostility.

It seems a difficult ask but we are not required anything more than what we are given. In the Christian story, while we were adversaries of God He showed self-giving love for His undeserving neighbours.

We are moved to love our neighbour when we know we were first loved by our Neighbour.

It’s the kind of love that moves you to think differently of your neighbour even if you think differently from them. It’s the kind of thinking that moves you to love your neighbour even if you live differently from them.

It thinks lovingly, speaks graciously, gives generously and prays liberally. It’s confident in conviction but humble in conversation. It’s honest in speech but gentle in tone. It’s slow to speak and quick to listen; difficult to offend and prone to be respectful.

It’s God speaking to Jonah, Paul speaking to Agrippa, Jesus speaking to a woman from Samaria and Peter telling us how to relate to our neighbours.

Love from our Neighbour compels love for our neighbours. It’s the kind of love that can bring light where there was only heat, inspire trust where there was only suspicion and make people neighbourly when they were only neighbours.


Image Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen

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