At exactly 4 p.m., I sat down, my eyes fixed eastward. I watched silently as my new friends responded to the Islamic call to prayer, standing shoulder to shoulder then bowing low on the plush carpet.
Tears welled in my eyes as I witnessed such an intimate moment of devotion, thankful that they shared part of their faith with me.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, emphasized the necessity to love others. And to love others well we seek to understand them. Which is why our confirmation class went on a retreat a couple weeks ago to learn about other religions.
Humans tend to separate and classify ourselves, then define ourselves based on those differences. When we do this, we rank ourselves — and we’re always at the top, aren’t we? We see this in schools, on social media, and sadly, in national and global affairs.
Someone once asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. Jesus responded to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Then he added that another was as equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“But who is my neighbor?” the man asked. Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan:
A Jewish man was walking along the road, when he was attacked by some robbers and left to die. Soon afterward a Jewish priest approached, but he continued on his journey without helping. It was not long until another Jewish leader approached, but he also passed the injured man untouched. After the second passed, a Samaritan approached.
The Samaritan took pity on the injured man and took care of him. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And a man hearing the story replied, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
He could not even say the word “Samaritan.” Samaritans were half-Jew, half-Gentile, and some people considered them unclean. They had different beliefs, customs, and likely a different appearance. Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hating one another, but in Jesus’ story, a Samaritan helped a Jew. The Samaritan was willing to get close to help someone who had once been an enemy.
I miss this key concept of radical and unconditional love too many times in my own life. This means reconciliation with those around me: those similar to me and those very different from me, no matter what.
We can love our enemies because all of the sudden, they’re not our enemies anymore. They are fellow human beings. The Kingdom of God turns enemies into neighbors. As Pope Francis said recently, we should be concerned with building bridges rather than building walls.
I used to work at a church daycare, and I had a class of 3-year-olds. I told them the story of the Good Samaritan one time, and I asked afterward who our neighbors are. One little girl blurted out, “Everyone, because we all live on the same Earth!”
From the mouths of babes.
Melissa Collier Gepford is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.