By Rev. M. Christopher Boyer
As the news media and blogosphere has buzzed with the stories of opposition to a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan and of plans by a church in Florida to hold a public burning of copies of the Holy Qur’an, I keep thinking about Jesus and his story about the Samaritan.
In modern day usage, thanks to that famous parable of “The Good Samaritan,” the word Samaritan has come to mean someone who performs an act of kindness for a stranger, usually at their own cost. But we have forgotten how Jesus’ audience would have originally heard the story. For first century Jews, Samaritans were a hated enemy. Although the Samaritans claimed to be descended from Abraham, just like the Jews, the Jews saw them as a mongrel race, illegally in their land.
Like the Jews, the Samaritans claimed to worship the One True God, but the Jews said that their worship was done in the wrong places and was demon-inspired. Like the Jews, the Samaritans had a holy book but the Samaritans claimed that theirs was a later correction to the Torah of Judaism. With long memories, the Jews still blamed the Samaritans for opposing the reconstruction of their destroyed holy places, the Temple and the city of Jerusalem itself. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. Sound familiar?
So it would have been quite offensive to most in attendance when Jesus cited a Samaritan in his story. A man who’d studied the Scriptures all his life asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking him what he found written in the Scriptures. The man replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But the man, wanting to be absolutely sure he had all his bases covered, asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” And so Jesus told him the story of man from a despised religion who had acted as a good neighbor toward one who would have spurned him, banned his worship and burned his holy book. “Go and do likewise,” he said.
We are blessed in Lynnwood to have two centers of Muslim worship. I have been an invited guest on two occasions in one of them, treated with respect as the leader of another group of Abraham’s children and heard in friendship as I spoke of the differences and similarities between our understandings of God.
I have found these folks to be good neighbors, whose wish is to live in peace and amity with those around them. Whether it would be from simple politeness, a belief in Freedom of Religion, or in obedience to the words of Jesus, we should all strive to return this offered friendship and love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves.
The Rev. M. Christopher Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.