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Who's my neighbor

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

In 1996 the KKK held a rally in Ann Arbor Michigan, home of Michigan University. It’s a progressive college town and an odd location for the KKK to hold a rally. People of all races came out to counter-protestor in large numbers holding an anti-KKK rally across the street. Police in riot gear and fake-shift fences separated the two groups in an attempt to keep the peace. However one KKK member found himself on the wrong side of the street. This middle age white man wore a Confederate flag t-shirt and had Nazi tattoos on his arms. He tried to get out of the crowd, but some counter-protestors chased him and knocked him down. Mob mentality took over and people started kicking him.

Eighteen year old Keisha (Key-sha) Thomas was still in high school at the time she attended the rally. When this young African American girl saw what was about to happen she threw herself over the white supremist, using her body as a human shield, to protect him. She started screaming at the mob “Stop! You can’t beat goodness into a person!” A college student took a picture of this and it became one of Time magazine’s photos of the year. Keisha went on Oprah and to this day works with organizations like the NAACP to march against police brutality, call for an end to mass incarceration, and promote better schools and education for all.

When asked why she risked her own safety for a man who certainly would not have done the same for her, she told reporters that “It was the right thing to do.” She credits her faith and said when he dropped to the ground it felt like two angels picked her up and laid her on top of him. She talked about how she had experienced violence in the past and said nobody deserves that.[1] She knew how to be neighbor to a man who hated her because of the color her skin.

I think of this story when I hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If you were one of the self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus’ day, your reaction to a person being saved by a Samaritan might be the same reaction a Klansman had to being saved by a black woman.

Jesus told this story not simply to suggest we should help people, everybody listening already knew the right thing to do in Jesus’ story was to help the injured man. But he told this story in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” So Jesus’ point is both to present a model of mercy for us to follow and to transform our understanding of who our neighbor is. Jesus wanted to challenge cultural norms and help people see that even the Samaritan was their neighbor. And to show that it was a Samaritan who recognized the suffering man as his neighbor, and not the privileged priest or Levite.

We humans have a way of looking at things tribally. Back in the caveman days this helped humans survive. Tribes bonded and took care of each other. They fought over resources with other tribes but ensured their own survival at all costs. Over time with the invention of agriculture, tribal systems transformed into cities and eventually into nations. Human consciousness didn’t really keep up with the pace of technology however. And so more and more wars were fought and violence ruled the world—and in a lot of ways still does. Jesus understood the drier need to expand human consciousness to see that all human beings are our neighbors. He didn’t see divisions in class, race, or religion. He recognized that national borders were artificial boundaries designed to divide people and to keep one tribe away from another.

We see this sinful mindset in every single culture throughout history. It may not be an exaggeration to say that not recognizing others as “neighbor” is the fundamental human sin. This tribal mindset, this being curved in on ourselves, not recognizing the oneness of the human family, being selfish for ourselves and our tribe. This low level of consciousness has caused every war, every murder, every evil in world history.

Now it wasn’t just Jews and Samaritans or the Jews and Romans who didn’t recognize each other as neighbor. This sinful tribalism mindset is enormously prevalent in the world to this day. We see it happening on our southern border right now. We have separated children from their parents, locked people in overcrowded detention centers that even some Holocaust survivors are equating to concentration camps.[2] Some seeking asylum may be held in already overcrowded prisons while they await their asylum cases, sometimes in states without immigration courts with no access to legal representation.[3] And this very weekend ICE begins raiding the homes of undocumented immigrants.[4]

This is scary stuff. Rounding up human beings; putting them in camps. Christians need to take a stand. This is not a political issue, this is a moral issue. In light of the ICE raids about to begin, Bishop Hazelwood emailed a statement to ELCA pastors and congregations with resources to help titled “Responding to our sorrow with action”. There are also ways you can be involved by joining the Guardian Angels program which provides support for migrant youth in courts. You can find more information about this in the Gathering Space after worship.

Other religious groups, American Jews in particular, have taken a stand and many have been arrested for civil disobedience outside of ICE facilities in major US cities.[5] One leader of “Never Again” this Jewish movement involved in civil disobedience said, “Never Again isn’t just about remembering how the Holocaust ended. It’s also about how it started, with a gradual process of legal exclusion and state-sponsored dehumanization that led eventually to the deaths of my grandpa’s family and so many millions of others.”[6]

Through their history of suffering Jewish people have learned to recognize their neighbor as not just fellow Jews and not just fellow Americans, but every human being who suffers. Can we recognize those beyond our tribe as our neighbor? Can we recognize our neighbor in the mother fleeing Honduras with her newborn? Can we recognize our neighbor in the teenage boy fleeing gang violence in El Salvador? Can we recognize our neighbor in the parents’ whose children whose children have died in detention centers? Can we recognize our neighbor in the migrants living in camps right now without soap, toothpaste, or proper nutrition?

It’s hard for privileged Christians like me to see my neighbor in these people. I didn’t grow up in destitute poverty. I’ve never had to flee my home fearing for my life. Whenever I’ve gone to another country it’s been for fun. And to be honest I’ve had the privilege of ignoring what’s been happening at the border. Up until about a week ago when I felt the Holy Spirit strongly pulling me to wonder how this issue relates to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I hadn’t really been watching the news or followed what’s happening. I’m so privileged I was able to choose not to pay attention to the suffering of others. Like the priest and Levite walking by the injured man on the road to Jericho, I had chosen not to see my neighbor.

In this parable Jesus challenges us to see and seeks to dismantle humanity’s tribal way of thinking and instill a new way of thinking where everyone is our neighbor. Our call as followers of Jesus is to take a stand wherever our neighbor is suffering. And the Good News in all of this is that Jesus is with us in our brokenness. Jesus is with those who suffer. Jesus is with those in detention centers. Jesus is with those struggling to see why we should worry about them. Jesus is with those suffering pain or loss. Jesus is with those wrestling with terminal diagnosis. Jesus is with those suffering from depression, addiction, or mental illness. Jesus is with us in our suffering and promises that God’s unconditional love will guide us through.

This world may be a scary place, but we have a God who entered into our suffering in order to heal this broken world. God is transforming our vision to give us eyes to see. And God is transforming this world into a place that manifests God’s goodness and love. As scary as it may seem sometimes, the Good News is that we know that God has redeemed this broken world and that God’s will shall be done.

For now, Jesus’ challenges us to see. To see our neighbor in the injured man on the road to Jericho. To see our neighbor in the Samaritan, or in the Mexican, or the Guatemalan, or the Honduran. To see our neighbor, like Keisha Thomas did, in the KKK man on the wrong side of the street.

May we pray this week that God heal our tribalistic thinking and give us eyes to see our neighbor in all of God’s children. To see everyone as part of our family. Because in a very real way we are all one and everything that happens to one of us affects all of us. That’s Jesus’ final point. Love your neighbor as yourself. And all people are your neighbor.


[1] Wynne, Caterhine. The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo. October 29, 2013.

[2] Pry, Alyssa. Holocaust Survivor: Yes, the Border Detention Centers Are Like Concentration Camps. July 8, 2019.

[3] Lanard, Noah. ICE Just Quietly Opened Three New Detention Centers, Flouting Congress’ Limits. July 9, 2019.

[4] Dickerson, Caitlin & Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. Thousands Are Targeted as ICE Prepares to Raid Undocumented Migrant Families. July 11, 2019.

[5] Zonszein, Mariav. Why Jews Are Getting Themselves Arrested at ICE Centers Around the Country. July 12, 2019.

[6] Ibid.

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