Acting as Good Samaritans in our Post-Election Country
Winning with grace. Losing with grace. The words of Donald Trump in his address after the election were words of grace and about unity. The words of Hillary Clinton conceding the loss were words of grace and about unity. President Obama receiving Donald Trump at the White House, bitter opponents meeting with one another for the first time in person and holding a 90 minute private discussion, offered a witness of grace and unity. And President Obama highlighted how President Bush before him showed the same graciousness eight years prior.
What a contrast compared to the past two years of political campaigning filled with offensive and often personal attacks, slanders and lies, together with disgusting rancor and hatred. For two years, we had people viciously and carelessly place labels upon one another, even upon friends and long time acquaintances – labels of conservative or liberal, ignorant or stupid, uneducated whites or angry blacks – labels which dehumanize the “other” and ignore our common love for country and desire for a peaceful future. And these attacks, stereotypes and name-calling have strained and challenged friendships. I see it even here in the Church within our Church Family.
And then we have watched what happened post-election. Peaceful and violent protests. Winners who are NOT gracious. And losers who are NOT gracious. The internet continues to be flooded with nasty comments towards the “other,” not with graciousness, not with kindness, not with trying to understand and comfort one another. Instead, the acrimonious attacks continue.
I know I step in risky territory when I begin talking politics. Unfortunately, the statistics of our country which they show how politics override one’s faith seem too true. As soon as we begin talking politics, we don’t allow ourselves to listen to the “other.” Yet, I take this risk today because I think the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan has a message relevant for our political times and the discourse of each one of us.
Let’s think about the Gospel story and try to understand the essence of what Christ is saying for our situation today!
A lawyer asks Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus responds, “One must love God with all our soul, strength, and mind, AND to love our neighbor!” Love for God and love for our neighbor go hand in hand. This means love for God and love even for that republican or democrat, that liberal or conservative whom we have disparaged.
Our path to eternal life is a life of love for God and for the neighbor who may have voted for Trump or for Clinton, for our neighbor who may be a conservative or a liberal. Our path to eternal life is a life of love for God and for that neighbor who even believes something quite different from our own beliefs.
Now wait a minute, you may say, Trump or Clinton, that “liberal” or that “conservative,” is not Christian, believes something very different from me, and we can go on to caricaturize them, label them, and ultimately reject and even hate them. This is something that every generation does to other people, people different than themselves. And with the internet today, it is so easy to fill our minds only with things that agree with what we believe, while rejecting the others who are different.
The people of Jesus’ time tempted to feel no different than we ourselves. In the Gospel story, we read about Jews and Samaritans, who both looked upon the other with similar ugliness and hatred. When Jesus taught the Jews of his time to “love your neighbor,” they surely thought that he was telling them to love another Jew, someone of the same religious and ethnic background, someone like themselves. Yet Christ shatters this parochial view of “neighbor” by sharing the shocking illustration of the Good Samaritan.
One day a Jewish man was walking a dangerous road, when robbers beat him up, stole all that he had, and left him half dead. As he laid there dying, a priest happened to be walking by. The priest saw the dying man, but chose to ignore his suffering and continue walking. Next a worker of the temple passed by. This man stopped to look at the dying man, and maybe he even felt sorry for him, but he didn’t want to interrupt his important schedule, so he kept walking on without helping.
Both of these men were faithful Jews religious leaders and workers who may have felt pity for the suffering man, but who were unwilling to go out of their way to help him, even if he was a fellow Jew. Maybe they had a good excuse not to stop and help because they were on their way to serve in the temple, or perform some other religious ceremony. The Jewish law stated that anyone who would touch the body of a dead person became unclean, and these religious leaders knew that if they became unclean, they would not be allowed to serve in the temple for a period of time.
The Jewish leaders in the parable of today’s Gospel didn’t understand what it meant to love your “neighbor.” After the priest and the temple worker passed by the dying man, a Samaritan walked by. Now we have to understand clearly that Samaritans were despised enemies of the Jews. They were religious heretics, half-breed Jews, and hated people who had no contact with Jews at all.
Obviously, Jesus purposely uses the Samaritan as the protagonist of the story precisely because he represents the enemy, the heretic, the “other” who is so different from the audience. And Christ shocks his listeners to highlight that it was precisely this “other” stranger who showed compassion for the dying man, and stopped to help him. This despised enemy went out of his way to anoint the wounds, bandage him up, and carry him on his own donkey to the nearest inn. And then, the Samaritan even leaves money with the innkeeper for any additional expenses he might incur.
“Who acted as the true neighbor?” Jesus asked. The men who were "religious" in theory but not in action, or the despised "heretic" who came from a racially impure people, the hated “other” who practiced mercy and love. Jesus warns us not to be interested more in theoretical theology than in practical love. Love for the other, especially when the “other” is different from us, who believes something other than what we believe who comes from our hated enemies, love for this other is the highest and greatest theology of our Orthodox Church.
Now, let’s go back and reflect on our situation in America today. Are we loving our neighbor, acting with the kindness and grace of the Good Samaritan when we attack those who voted differently than ourselves? Are we imitating the Good Samaritan and acting with the kindness and grace when we post ugly, derogatory, mean-spirited messages about other candidates and about our friends who are liberal or conservative, the democrat or republican?
Our Christianity should come before our politics. Why don’t each one of us try to only post messages that lift up the good? Why don’t we speak with kindness towards those who voted differently than ourselves? Why don’t we sincerely try to love God AND our neighbor, even that neighbor who is not of the same political party as ourselves.
We are all American who want what is best for our country. We are on the same team. Yet even more important than our national team identity, let us all remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and our identity as Christians should come before even our identity as Americans and especially come before our identity as republicans or democrats. As St. Paul reminds us, “Our citizenship is not of this world, but in heaven.”