When a stranger needs help how will you respond?


Guest writer

A certain Rabbi Hillel, who, we are told, may have been one of the teachers that inspired the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, was once, we are told, challenged to recite the entire book of Jewish law while standing on one leg. Hillel is said to have replied:

“That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary, go and study.”

We are told that Jesus of Nazareth, himself a practicing follower of the faith of the Hebrew people was once asked what the greatest commandment was.

“To Love G*d with all of your heart, mind, body and soul,” he said, “and the second is like it, love your neighbour as yourself.”

In a difficult, divided, revolutionary time when people were being segmented and cut off from one another by the ethics of Rome and the precepts of Herod, those who followed Jesus’ teachings were asked to take Hillel one more step along the Way. To read deeply into the books of the law and find there a further call. To think of what was good for their neighbour and to respond accordingly.

Not only to refrain from harm, but to offer love.

In our own difficult, divided, segmented and separated time, a time when we tend to think of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of ‘we’ and ‘they’, of ‘mine’ and ‘theirs’, how are we called to respond to this almost universal teaching known to many faiths as “The Golden Rule”?

How do we hear the call to offer love?

In a further teachable moment, Jesus offered the example of a man in severe difficulty, beset by robbers and left for dead. Ignored by the upright citizens of his day, he was offered love and salvation by a member of a community distrusted and sometimes despised for its religious practices. Who was the good neighbour in the story, Jesus asked. The upright and righteous that passed by, or the one that stopped and offered aid?

It seems as much a ‘no brainer’ now, as it did then. And yet we seem, somehow, to get bound up in complexities, in reasons to pass by. Who is there to teach us in this day? Where are our rabbis of faith?

When I attended the Centre for Christian Studies in Winnipeg some years ago, I was told of a young girl who saw a homeless person shivering at the side of the road. She asked her dad why and, as he began the long explanation of the social determinants of homelessness, mental health and addictions, neighbourhood nervousness, housing crisis, and a long list of relevant information, she, I am told, interrupted with a question:

“Why don’t we give them the blanket from the trunk?” Almost every prairie vehicle carries an emergency stash in the trunk as a guard against being stranded in a blizzard.

Her dad could think of no good reason not to. He stopped the car, took out the blanket, extended it in love and thus, I’m told, was born a new direct action to assist the homeless in Winnipeg.

Rabbi Hillel, Jesus of Nazareth, the Good Samaritan, a five year old Winnipeg girl.

And now each of us. How do we respond to the call to love?

How will we be the neighbours we are called to be?

Keith SimmondsA diaconal minister, Keith Simmonds serves at Duncan United Church, and as President of the BC Conference of the United Church of Canada. Blogging at keithsimmonds.ca, he can also be found at http://bc.united-church.ca/presidents-blog Views expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of the church. 

You can read more articles in our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE

*This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, October 8 2016


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