"Are you serious?!" I said out loud. This was totally uncharacteristic of me. I'm the type of person who likes to listen, take everything in while watching a movie. I realize that making a comment might distract from whatever we are experiencing. And yet, there I was, moved to the point that I had to make a comment. A loud one.
I appreciate that sometimes people have to make exclamations when they encounter something. This was one of those times for me. We were watching "The True Cost", a documentary about the fashion industry. The indignation kept building within me as I saw how the workers were treated, what the environmental impact of standard clothing production was. I then exploded as I learned about the Rana Plaza catastrophe, knowing that little has changed for the workers since then. If someone saw the person inside my head, they would see someone who had thrown up their arms in an act similar to giving up, but more akin to being finished with a system. I was to the point of abandoning how we operate here in the first world. How these people were being treated was a direct result of a system that I was a part of. I just never knew.
In the movie, I saw huge groups of people on strike because they wanted wages of $250/month. $250/month. How is someone supposed to take care of a family on $250/month? I know I couldn't. Could I provide a safe place to live, healthy food, good education and health care for my daughter on $250/month? Not even in a poor country could I do that. I would want to be paid more. If I wanted to be paid more, I want them to be paid more too. Isn't that what loving your neighbor is all about? Wanting for someone else, what I would want for myself? But, are these people my neighbors?
Surely God doesn't expect me to go to the lengths of extending myself to try and be concerned for people I'll never, never meet. I'm bad enough at loving people living in the house next door. I only have so much love to go around. I fear that if I start putting effort towards all these people that I've never met, I'm not going to have much left for the people in my vicinity. A lawyer asked Jesus this very question in Luke 10, so I went there for my answer.
"Who is my neighbor?", the Lawyer asked
The Lawyer that Jesus was talking to tried to justify himself, proving that he had followed all the commandments and said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?". Jesus replied with the parable of the good Samaritan. We all know it. We all recognize that the Samaritan did the generous thing, while the Priest and the Levite did nothing for the man. The story was told to define WHO the Lawyer's neighbors were. That's not usually how it talked about in church, at least not that I can remember. Maybe I missed something.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
I have heard many people show how the Samaritan loved the man he came across, as an example for us to follow of how to love our neighbor. The point of the parable was to define WHO our neighbor is, though, not how to love them, although I assume that Jesus would approve of how the Samaritan acted. We incorrectly assume that our neighbors are the people we encounter. If this were the case, then all 3 of these people would have been the man's neighbors. 3 people walked by the man who was robbed. A Priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Only 1 acted like a neighbor:
"...Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?" Jesus asked. The Lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." Luke 10:36-37
Jesus uses the parable to redefine our understanding of God's command. The command to love our neighbor as ourselves was never meant to cause us to focus on defining who our neighbor is, rather it was meant to say that we should love everyone and treat them like they are our neighbors. The Lawyer wanted Jesus to define a small circle of people that he had to love, whereas Jesus wanted the Lawyer to make his circle as wide as possible by showing others mercy and thereby becoming their neighbor.
To me, this answered my question. These people in Bangladesh who make my clothes, they are my neighbors. The farmers who grow my food, they are my neighbors. The workers assembling electronics, they are my neighbors. The people affected by pollution due to industrial production, they are my neighbors. Why? Because I want them to be. Why? Because Jesus wants them to be. He wants me to have a huge circle of people I treat like neighbors. I have come to the conclusion that everyone that my life affects, even in the smallest way, should be able to say that I treated them like a neighbor. That's just me. How about you? Who are your neighbors?