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  • John Kim

Othered

Luke 10:29 “And who is my neighbor?”

I’ve been meditating on the increasing divisiveness we see in the world around us. For all of human history, people formed groups that fought each other for control of resources. In that context, it’s really important to be able to identify quickly who is a member of your group and who is not.

I recently came across Roger Sperry’s fascinating work on split-brain experiments. After the left and right hemispheres of a brain are severed, one can show different images to each brain (the left eye feeds info to the right brain, and the right eye to the left brain) and the two hemisphere’s can’t communicate with each other. If you ask the person to describe what they just saw, they will describe the input to their left brain because that is where language processing resides. But if you ask the person to draw what they just saw with their left hand, they will draw a different image, the one shown to their right brain (which controls the left hand). What this means is that two different parts of the brain believe that just saw two different images, even though they are part of the same body.

Let me repeat. Two different parts of the brain can believe two different things at the same time, even though they are part of the same body.

Now from a spiritual perspective, what distinguished one group from another historically was what one believed. “I believe in this god, you also believe in this god. So we’re part of the same body. Let’s treat each other well. That guy believes in a different god. He’s not part of our body so let’s treat him less well.” We see a lot of this dynamic in scriptures as well, particularly in the old testament where God wanted to make sure the Israelites were holy (which literally means “set apart”). And while I believe God continues to care about holiness, I also wonder if how holiness manifests is also undergoing a change that started thousands of years ago.

We know that the two most important commandments in all of scripture are to love God with everything you’ve got, and to love your neighbor as yourself. When a religious leader asked Jesus who would qualify as his neighbor, Jesus replied with the parable of the good Samaritan. A man gets robbed and beaten half dead. A priest passes by on the road without helping. A Levite passes by without helping. Then a Samaritan passes by and takes care of the victim at great expense to himself. The first two men are Jews, part of the same group as the man. The Samaritan is part of a hated out-group. (Watch The Chosen to see how hated they actually were.)

Who are we to love? Who are we to treat as extensions of our own body? Who qualifies as a neighbor when you are told to love your neighbor “as yourself?”

I feel Jesus makes it pretty clear here that it has nothing to do with having the same beliefs. God still cares about being set apart, but I wonder if that has more to do sharing love than sharing beliefs. The standard of the world is to love those who are like you, who are part of the same group as you, who believe the same things you do. So to be set apart or holy in today’s context is to depart from the ways of the world and love those who are not like you.

“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”

Lord, there are so many debates out there and I’m so tempted to get involved in so many of them. I believe you celebrate our differences, but are saddened when people feel “othered” because of those differences. Help me to honor others as extensions of my own body, even when are different from me. Thank you for the ultimate example of true love. In your son’s name, Amen.

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