After 3 months of radical change in our country because of the coronavirus, the eyes of America are now on another tragedy, the unjust killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, and the violent, destructive, riots and looting which have followed. How does America deal with these horrible realities? What is the proper response for followers of Jesus?
I can personally state two reactions to the injustice and unrest. First, the killing of George Floyd was unjust, wrong, and criminal. A former Alaska State Trooper told me that there is no way that this treatment of Floyd was justified, or even a mistake. To make matters worse, when such criminal behavior comes from the authorities who are charged with enforcing the law, the victim of injustice is faced with an unwinnable dilemma.
Second, where I believe such injustice can rightly lead to protests, the violence and destruction of the demonstrations is wrong, and also criminal. In fact, I have heard people from the African American community express such sentiments, that the looting and destruction should stop. Those expressing such sentiments even include a person from the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and also the family of George Floyd himself.
This whole situation can seem complicated and confusing. In fact, I know that I do not have the answers for what steps might lead to dealing with both the injustice, nor with the violence and destruction. I do know that when peoples have held long-term, historic grudges, that one wrong leads to another, and the situation escalates. We can see such historic hostilities in relationships between Arab and Jewish people, or in Ireland between Roman Catholics and Protestants. When one wrong is followed by a retaliatory reaction, emotions grow sharp, hearts are hardened, and relationships deteriorate in a downward spiral, often into violence.
Jesus taught how His followers should react to hatred, to prejudice, and injustice. He was once asked by a Jewish lawyer about inheriting eternal life. Jesus answered the man’s question with a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer responded “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.” So, Jesus told the man, 28 “ . . . do this, and you will live.” The lawyer was surprised that his question was turned back on him, and we are told, “”desiring to justify himself, [he] said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” So Jesus told the parable we know as The Good Samaritan.
Jesus knew of the long-term hard feelings that existed between the Jewish people in southern Palestine and the Samaritan people in the north. Jesus also knew the reason for those feelings of prejudice and hatred. So, in Jesus’ parable, spoken to this Jewish lawyer, a man who was traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed, beaten, and left to die. However, 3 men happen by the injured man. Two of those who see him, and pass by without helping, are religious workers, a priest and a Levite. But, when the despised Samaritan passes the dying man, the Samaritan stops, and cares for the man, and then even pays for further care. Jesus asks the lawyers, 36 “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “’The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’.” (The parable of the Good Samaritan, from Luke 10:25-37)
We can imagine that the lawyer left his encounter with Jesus feeling less self-assurance than he had when he first spoke to our Lord. After all, who can treat everyone as neighbor, and love them as ourselves? The truth is that no one shows this kind of love; or almost no one. The ultimate Good Samaritan is Jesus. Jesus put himself in danger, and even died, to care for and to save all in our world who are hopeless because of our sin. Jesus loved all people with his life, His death, and His resurrection.
Is America’s dilemma really that simple? In a way what we face is so much more complicated than just loving our neighbor. But, I find that, when facing complicated situations, finding the simple truth of God helps me take the first step, and then take the next step , and then the next step, on the road to dealing with the challenges faced by children of God in a sinful world. Life is messy because of sin and evil in the world. Jesus dealt with that mess. When we trust His love and salvation, and seek to follow Him, I do believe that helps us to move in the direction of love and righteousness, which lead to peace. I also believe this is true even for our current crisis.
So, in today’s America, do you know any neighbors who need loving?