I believe Jesus was serious when he said “Love your neighbor.” In fact, he said that the only duty higher than loving your neighbor is to love God.
This notion is closely related to the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus didn’t give a pat answer or one that would fit in a 140-character tweet. Instead, he told a story that is well known to many today, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
What some might not know about that tale is that the Israelites and the Samaritans were arch rivals for generations, some would even call them bitter enemies.
After two respectable religious leaders passed the fallen traveler by, leaving him for dead, a Samaritan comes along, and shows compassion on his fallen “enemy”. When the story is over, Jesus asks, which of the three was the good neighbor? Then he instructs his listeners, and us, to go and do likewise.
We have many, diverse neighbors, of many religions, ethnicities, skin tones, and other characteristics. As a reflection of religious diversity, the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio counts nine member faiths, and, of course, there are likely many denominations and distinctions within each of those.
One of the central purposes of the IACO is to promote social justice, peace and human dignity, and all of its members commit to that. Every religion teaches the golden rule, to treat others as you would like to be treated.
Among the many churches in our neighborhoods, there are also many gathering places that people of other faiths go to pray and find fellowship. There are at least a dozen Islamic places of worship or cultural centers in central Ohio.
Many are opening their doors for the public to see and hear firsthand that they are different from the incendiary Islamophobic propaganda spreading on the internet and social media. Similarly, there are many Hindu temples, as well as Jewish, Jain, Buddhist, and others.
These are our neighbors. They work beside us, stand in line with us at the bank or the grocery store, go to the movies and restaurants with us, and vote in local, state, and national elections, just like us. They are a part of us and are citizens of the U.S.
We should think of them as our neighbors, and try to get to know them. How can you love them when you don’t know them? Would you want to be known solely on the basis of what others have said about you, or what they’ve read on the internet about you?
Jesus also told the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where the blessed and the cursed are separated by their acts of kindness and mercy. It indicates that in the final judgment, we will be evaluated by how we treated the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the incarcerated, and, finally, strangers.
Who are strangers? Just neighbors we haven’t met yet.
David Soliday is minister, Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.