How is it that Australians and New Zealanders are culturally so similar and yet maintain a healthy rivalry? The same question could be asked about Samoans and Tongans. Even within countries the same phenomenon can be observed: PNG coastal people versus PNG highlanders; Gualis versus Malaitans; North Island versus South Island; Sydney versus Melbourne.
Too often the rivalry is far from healthy. Israelis versus Palestinians; Hutus versus Tutsis; Germans versus Jews. Millions have died due to hatred of the enemy next door.
Let’s call it the Samaritan Effect: the tendency to reserve a particular dislike for people who are nearby and similar in many ways, but who are still not “one of us”. In New Testament times Jews avoided their Samaritan neighbours. Ethnically, Samaritans were seen as half-breeds, claiming an Abrahamic inheritance yet being contaminated by pagan ancestry. Theologically, Samaritans respected the Torah but they also deviated in their beliefs and religious practices.
And yet Jesus told the story of a Good Samaritan. He chose a Samaritan woman as the audience for one of the clearest statements of His identity as Messiah. He told His disciples that Samaria would be one of their first mission fields. And Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”
In saying this, Jesus wasn’t referring to distant and impossibly strange barbarians—the ISIS terrorists or North Korean dictators of His day. He was referring to the enemy next door; people who could hurt you: “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you” (Luke 6:27,28).
So who are my Samaritans? Who are the people much like me—but not quite like me—who threaten me, my family, my friends or my church? The vaguely suspicious Lebanese family in my street? The lurching, demanding drunks and addicts in my city? The scornful gay activists taking over mainstream media? The homeschooling anti-Trinitarians hellbent on dividing my church? The rebellious youth band inflicting rock’n’roll on my congregation? The critical independent Adventist ministry that’s accepting tithe?
Jesus asks me to love my Samaritans; to love the enemy next door who has harmed me and who continues to be destructive.
How can I possibly do that?