This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The many what-ifs of loving your neighbor

“Who is my neighbor?” I understand the lawyer’s need for a clear answer from Jesus.

Jane Yoder-Short

Jesus answers the question with the story of a Samaritan showing mercy to a wounded traveler. It seems easy. The person in need is our neighbor. But then the what-ifs start.

What if we pass by earlier, while the robbers are still present? Is the neighborly response to pull one’s sword? Is the neighborly response to find an officer who can intervene?

What if we arrive at the inn and discover the attackers are staying there? Does the neighborly response include forcing the assailants to leave so we can be sure the rescued person is safe?

What if we start seeing the robbers as neighbors?

It’s not always clear what mercy, neighborliness and faithfulness to Jesus look like.

Our congregation’s turn at Free Lunch happened the same week as a fight that brought the police to the dining center. An email directed us to call the police if Mr. Estrada shows up. His picture hung on the bulletin board by the fridge.

How do we balance protecting free-lunch diners with also seeing Mr. Estrada as a neighbor? If Mr. Estrada arrives, will he be armed? Is calling the police the only option?

We need more choices, more numbers to call. Why can’t local communities have trained non-violent de-escalation teams ready to intervene in tense situations? Where are the trained troops of mental health workers?

I found myself wishing the police offered more options. You could call and a voice would say, “Press 1 to request an armed officer. Press 2 for an officer carrying only nonlethal weapons.”

I sat down with some familiar diners and asked them about Wednesday’s fight. They told about yelling escalating into a fight and the police coming. I tried giving a quick lesson on Mennonite aversion to violence and my concern surrounding calling the police. They listened to my apprehensions. Ellie told me not to worry; she would call the police for me. I said I didn’t want anyone shot. I was informed, “People get shot. That’s life.”

I like to think Mennonite pacifism and reckless Jesus-love are more than historical stories. Jesus would show compassion to Mr. Estrada. Jesus would care about keeping this assorted group of diners safe. Jesus would care about the arriving officers.

When we call the police, are we unintentionally sanctioning the possibility of brutality and racism? Are we giving our approval for wielding guns? Would Mr. Estrada get a fair encounter?

In spite of the broken system, there are times when neighborly love includes calling the police. Situations such as child exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and drunken drivers all need reporting.

During lunch preparations, we discussed the implications of neighborly love. A co-worker suggested we make a peanut butter sandwich to go. We could explain to Mr. Estrada that he isn’t allowed at Free Lunch but we didn’t want him to go hungry.

After all the mental questions, Mr. Estrada didn’t show up. We didn’t have to make the hard decision about calling the police this time. It did give us a chance to think about the what-ifs.

I’m still not always sure what neighborly love looks like, but I think it could resemble a peanut butter sandwich in a paper bag.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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