One of the joys of retiring on Massachusett's North Shore is that I'm close enough to audit a course each term at Episcopal Divinity School. Last term's course was on the Gospel of John; this term's is Globalization: Mission , Ethicsand Theology. One of the readings for this week is an essay by Thomas W. Walker in Global Neighbors: Christian Faith and Moral Obligation in Today's Economy. In the essay Walker examines the ideas of far and near in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel. In that parable, robbers come near to the man travelling on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, they become for a time his physical neighbors, but their actions are not at all what the Torah demands of neighbors. Having robbed and beaten him, they leave him for dead by the side of the road. Two passers-by, a Priest and a Levite, keep themselves far from the man, each passing by on the other side of the road. Finally, a Samaritan, one whom the Jewish community would have seen as someone culturally and religously far from them, draws near, showing compassion in binding his wounds, paying for his continued careat an inn, and promising to return to pay whatever more needs to be paid.
The parable, so typical of Jesus' teaching, confronts its hearers, including us, with the challenge of seeing the world in a new way. How might we begin to see that those whom we see as far from us - geographically, culturally, ethnically, ideologically - are those whom God wants us to make near ones, our neighbors? How might the needs of these neighbors, as well as their gifts and great beauty, be considered as we make decisions about our lives? Not in the same way or to the same degree that the needs of our families and communities have a claim on us, but in some measure.
A central challenge of globalization for Christians, and perhaps for others as well, is making the far near, seeing ourselves as inextricably connected to everyone in this global village. We share, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, in a covenant of fate with the whole of creation, partners one with another in the work of healing a fractured world. The stakes are simply too great for us to retreat from the challenge into ethnic or religious or ideological or geographic isolation.