Friendship Advent Reflection, Day 13
I have found it depressing these past weeks to watch the House impeachment hearings. Neither side seems to listen to the other. Some of the lawmakers ask questions, but they don't seriously expect the other side to answer. And then there's all that shouting, and mansplaining, the tone deaf lecturing. It has been exhausting and sad to watch.
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) in response to just such a challenge, a rhetorical question from a lawyer who asks, without any real desire to listen to the answer, "who is my neighbor?" The popular interpretation of this parable usually sets up the Samaritan as the moral exemplar. He is the one, even though he was the one looked down upon by Jewish society, who helped the stranger in need, when religious authorities from the traveler's own tribe went out of their way to avoid him. Pastors often exhort us to embrace the kind of boundary crossing generosity of the Samaritan--and that's fine. But the lawyer doesn't ask, "to whom can I be a neighbor?" He asked, "who is my neighbor?" After Jesus concludes the parable, he asks, "which of these three, do you think, was the neighbor to the one who fell into the hands of the robbers" (NRSV)? When Jesus concludes with "Go and do likewise," the apparent interpretation is that he is encouraging the lawyer to engage in "acts of mercy."
But what if the parable is actually intended to help the lawyer recognize who his neighbors are? What if the parable is meant to help us realize that during the times in which we fall into the hands of figurative robbers, our neighbors are the ones who will reach across status, class, ethnic, racial, religious, and gender lines to show us mercy. Bonhoeffer in his final writing imagined what a religion-less Christianity would look like, and the picture that emerges looks something like the acts and prayers of the Good Samaritan. But I also think that if we are to experience the kinds of friendship bonds Jesus has in mind, that we will need to make ourselves vulnerable, that we will need to see ourselves in the shoes of the nameless man who is robbed on his way down to Jericho. I think that only when we place ourselves in a position of humility, brokenness, and vulnerability, will we be able to truly ask probing questions, receive thoughtful answers, and practice the kind of boundary crossing conversations that are the hallmark of a religion-less Christianity. Are we prepared to ask the kinds of questions that betray our ignorance, risk connection, and offer us opportunities to hear unexpected and refreshing answers? If so, we might make new friends, and encounter neighbors in ways we never could have anticipated.
Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.