The news recently has contained harrowing accounts of a number of hate-motivated attacks, including an attack against Muslims in Finsbury Park in north London.
They have left me with a number of deep-rooted emotional responses.
The first is deep, deep sadness for those who have been injured and bereaved.
The second is anger that fellow humans are treating each other in this way.
The third is powerlessness because there is nothing I can do to make a difference.
And then I stopped and reflected on the third emotional response and that led me to write this tweet: “We pride ourselves on being a tolerant society but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to LOVE our neighbours #lovenothate.”
It’s not that I think that by tweeting I can make much of a difference on my own. But the power of social media is that we can share our ideas, thoughts and emotions much more widely than ever before and that might make a huge difference.
One brick on its own may make a couple of people trip up, but thousands of bricks together can create a tidal defense that will hold back a flood of hatred.
If you doubt me, consider this: Following the Finsbury Park attack, all across the United Kingdom, hundreds of thousands of people engaged in “The Great Get Together.”
It was a series of community events inspired by the late Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament, and her words: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us.”
My family got on board with this rather too late to organize a street party, but we had some of our neighbors around for a barbecue.
It was lovely to get to know each other a little more and come out from behind our front doors. It was a glimpse of what community could be like if we tried.
Coming back to my tweet, which was based on the encounter, recorded in Luke 10, which Jesus had with a lawyer who wanted to look impressive.
The lawyer had asked Jesus what he had to do to “inherit eternal life.”
Now he should have known (as a lawyer) that his question was fundamentally flawed. You can’t do anything to inherit something. An inheritance is a gift from another.
But Jesus knew that the man wanted more than a semantic argument, so he asked him what he thought the Hebrew Scriptures said about it.
The lawyer gave the stock answer, which was to keep the commandments and that is summarized as, “Love God, love your neighbor.”
In order to show how impressive he was, the lawyer asked a follow-up question, which he probably regretted afterward: “Who is my neighbor?”
That’s when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Make the man on the roadside a violent racist and the Samaritan a Muslim, and you’ll get an idea of the shocking nature of the story and how radical it was that Jesus made the Samaritan the hero.
The lawyer didn’t actually get an answer to his question. The message of the story is not that our neighbors are anyone in need.
Rather, the point is that to discover whom our neighbors are we first need to examine ourselves and discover our self-justified prejudices, our self-obsessed self-interest and our compassion fatigue.
We need to let go of those and see that we define who our neighbors are. The number of neighbors we have is limited only by the limits of our love.
This is not mushy, romantic love. Not lustful, carnal love. Not even the love we have for our families. It is rugged, determined, self-denying, putting-others-first-and-considering-the-needs-of-others love.
If the story of the Good Samaritan didn’t tell the lawyer who his neighbor was, it did give him a glimpse of how he was to love his neighbor when he worked out who it was.
We pride ourselves on being a tolerant society, but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to love our neighbors.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.