The Good Samaritan is one of those stories that transcends the Christian tradition in some senses (which is a nice reminder that we don’t actually own these stories). It’s worth revisiting (or visiting for the first time) here.

What the story illustrates is that there have always been questions about belonging. Questions about who we should consider part of us, and who we get to categorize as them. It’s a natural, human inclination. And frankly, it’s the root of a whole lot of terribly whack situations throughout history. (For the uninitiated, “terribly whack situation” is the term that the theological academy uses for what we in the church call “sin.” Don’t look it up. Just trust me.) The desire to differentiate between us (or me) and them is what led to Abel’s blood crying out to God. The desire to draw distinctions between us and them is what led to the division of a united Israel. The desire to distinguish between us and them is at the heart of this exchange between Jesus and the religious leader.

When Jesus was asked to define who the neighbor was, it wasn’t an innocent question. This isn’t me speculating. The story says that an expert in religious law was testing Jesus. It’s the same thing that happens on a regular basis between people who disagree. You present a rhetorical question to make somebody seem foolish. Many Israelites had solid reason (based upon everything they’d been taught of Moses and the prophets) to believe that God’s love was for them and them alone, and that making distinctions in identity was essential to remaining in God’s love. So when the question “Who is my neighbor?” was asked, it was understood by the majority of the people in that very public setting that the answer was “your fellow Israelites.”

We tend to have similar defaults. We think of the people we are most comfortable with as our neighbors. For some, those are the people who share a race or ethnicity. For many, it’s the people who believe the same things as us. Sometimes it’s people who wave the same flag, or root for the same sports team, or joined the same organization. In some cases, it’s just the people who share the same blood.

But when Jesus answered that question, he answered with a story. Facts are easy to track down and digest. But processing stories requires a commitment to the other. It requires the humility to let go of your narrative in order to make room at the table for another. Jesus tells the story of a man who was subjected to the violent sin of a group of people, and is only restored to health through the kind actions of a stranger. The implication is that it was that Samaritan stranger, and not the Israelite religious leaders who passed by the injured man, who was the true neighbor. All of this despite the readily apparent hostility that existed between the Israelites and the Samaritans.

It’s easy to set this up as a brand new paradigm, but it’s really a reinforcement of many of the Old Testament stories. Rahab was not of Israel, but showed that she belonged by sheltering two strangers in danger. Ruth was not of Israel, but showed that she belonged as much as anyone by the agency she showed in caring for an elderly widow named Naomi. In telling this story, Jesus is illustrating that (despite what we try to make it out to be) belonging has always been a matter of the heart.

When I sit with this story, it makes me reflect on more than is comfortable. Is my heart for knowledge of God, or is my heart for God? Is my heart for Christian doctrine, or is my heart for Christlike love? Is my heart for the image of self righteousness, or is my heart for the image of God?

As I reflect on these things, I find walls crumbling around me. And that’s frightening. Because, although walls may inadvertently keep some neighbors out, they’re also pretty good at protecting me from danger. But Jesus wasn’t exactly know for living a cautious life.

So I’ve decided to pursue a sense of neighbor, a sense of community, a sense of belonging that is at once uncomfortable and liberating.

I’ve decided that I want to love as God does. And that means loving who and what God loves. And that means that, though every human construct and barrier might call us strangers, I must choose to open a path through the wall. The hope is that, in spite of these walls, we might experience community as God intended. Since we belong to God, we might as well practice belonging to each other.