People are dying.
Hospitals, airports, tree-lined streets; people at work, people at play and people at worship; those in need of protection and those charged with protecting them – there is no safe place, no safe gathering.
They are being killed abroad and here in my own country.
What happened in the United States last week falls not only short of what we hope for – a country devoted to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, as we celebrated our independence when the week opened – but has turned, awfully turned, in the opposite direction for many.
This means something in America, a country which has adopted the motto E Pluribus Unum: when it happens to some, it happens to us all.
E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum translates to “Out of many, one”, referring to the thirteen original colonies – each a separate political entity with its own charter and governance, independent of one another – coming together to form one country.
The country grew up around this ideal. Citizens have a constitutional right to pass freely across state lines, to engage in business throughout the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic and from the tundra to the tropics, to be born on a farm and to work in a city (or vice versa).
The American ideal is that there is no such thing as “Those people over there.” This is a nation built on a foundation of “All of us right here.” When tragedy strikes anywhere in America, it strikes everywhere in America. And it struck America a hard blow for three solid days the week we celebrated our independence.
What of those tragedies overseas? A 17th Century poet reminds us:
… any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
(John Donne, No Man Is an Island, 1624.)
There are no borders, no lines drawn on a map, that say “These people on my side are included in humanity, and those on the other side are not.” The Great Command to love your neighbor is not limited by proximity, nor by nationality, nor by lineage, nor by beliefs.
Jesus explained it once by describing a scene where a man had been beaten and robbed and left for dead on a desolate stretch of road. Twice along came people you would expect to stop and help, people who would feel some responsibility to and kinship with their countryman in need.
They each stepped aside and went on their way without pause.
Then came someone you would expect to have no reason to help, a foreigner and outcast. This stranger instead stopped and bandaged the victim’s wounds. He placed him on a his donkey and brought him to the nearest town. He bought the victim a room at an inn, nursed him overnight, and paid the innkeeper to continue caring for the man. He left enough money to provide for the victim’s needs, promising to return and reimburse the innkeeper should the expenses be even greater.
You see, the stranger and the victim were neighbors though they were of differing nationalities and had never met, and when one neighbor hurt the other came alongside.
Being the Samaritan in a World of Passersby
The tragedies here at home and in countries around the world mean your neighbors are suffering. Your neighbors are falling victim to hate and violence. Your neighbors who:
… go to an airport expecting to travel safely,
… visit their loved ones in a hospital,
… gather together in worship,
… peacefully speak out against hate and injustice, or put on a uniform to protect those speaking out …
These victims are your neighbors. When people are victims, we are to:
… come alongside (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
… join in their suffering (Hebrews 13:3)
… and carry the burdens of the women and men and boys and girls around us. (Galatians 6:2.)
Because when it happens to one it happens to all, and it’s happening right now to your neighbor.
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii [that is, two days’ wages] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37.)