Fearing Those Who Are Different

One of the things I could never understand as a child was why one group of people hated another group of people. Growing up in a mono-cultural environment it was hard to imagine. It is true that many people in my area didn’t like the French speakers who lived just across the river from us in Quebec. But everyone still did business with them and there was never any fighting between the groups. We didn’t have a century-long hatred between the peoples. They were different from us, but we didn’t wish them evil.

That isn’t the case for many places around the world. It seems that some people are born enemies. Ancient feuds and hatred refuse to go away.  Often the initial problems have been forgotten but the need for revenge or fighting lives on. To be a certain nationality or ethnicity means you must hate certain other nationalities. How does this happen?

I’ve been thinking about this and the situation in Israel in light of Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan. As a child, I really didn’t understand what it meant for Samaritans and Jews to be enemies. I didn’t understand why making the Samaritan the hero of the story was so radical or just how much Jesus was challenging the status quo of his day.

Today, we have no trouble understanding animosity between two people groups. The names and labels might be different from Jesus’ example, but the same hostility exists. It’s encouraging then to read about little spots of light amid the conflict. If you look hard enough you can find new stories about an Israeli or Palestinian who has helped or protected someone from the other side. Not everyone wants to be enemies.

At the end of the parable Jesus’ question to his listeners was, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  (Luke 10:36) His meaning was clear. He wants us to recognize the boundaries and borders that separate people and for us to care for those in need whether or not they are part of our group.

The wars in Israel, Ukraine and other places are a result of human action. It develops first in the hearts of men and women where there is hatred. Prejudice and racism grow distorting the human spirit. Evil intentions and violence result. Huge things can come from unchecked sins in the deep places of our hearts. We need to watch out for that.

So who was the neighbor?  “The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)