But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29, NRSV)
This is an interesting question for those of us who understand the concept of the neighbourhood in a very privileged sense. By that I mean, we who are able to choose where we live. Who have the ability to move into settings of relative safety and comfort and better opportunities for our kids. Who surround ourselves with the people that we want and remove/protect ourselves from 'the types' that we don't. I don't necessarily mean to insinuate some sort of prejudice there, I'm just referring to decision making that is based on socio-economic advantage. We embrace diversity of race, belief, and orientation in our neighbourhoods; we just expect those around us to adhere to certain unspoken standards and values systems. The truth is, despite ethic or religious difference, we still want our neighbours to be the same as us in ideology and lifestyle. This makes loving our neighbours in this context a relatively risk-free venture.
The problem is, according to Jesus, being a neighbour is not dependant on proximity, convenience, or sameness. Rather, being a neighbour is about crossing the borders that divide us as human beings. Ethnic borders, religious borders, locational borders, economic borders, historical borders of past conflict, ideological borders, and yes, even the protective borders that offer us the safety and comfort we have been privileged enough to hold.
His answer offends the unspoken standards and value systems that his audience would have held to. It disrupts their basic human instinct for neatly compartmentalized lives. He calls them, and us, beyond the chosen boundaries of neighbourhood that they have made for themselves and into something far riskier - mercy.
I write this today because Canada is in an important position right now as we seek to respond to acts of violence that could very well divide us as people. Our instinct is to turn to fear and scapegoating, to build up our borders and hide behind suspicion and distrust of those who are different. The temptation to protect and entrench the 'sameness' of our neighbourhoods is very real. The question of neighbour-ness is just as relevant.
So who are our neighbours in Canada today?
It's interesting to me that when Jesus answers this question, who is my neighbour, he ends up reframing the question to become, who acted like a neighbour in this specific situation? I believe that we are in need of a similarly radical redefining of the very concept of neighbour in our specific situation. The question is not 'who are our neighbours.' The question needs to be, how are we showing mercy and kindness and hospitality to anyone who needs it regardless of the type of borders that separate us from them?
I guess the point is that we're all neighbours; what are we going to do to act like it?