Love and Mutual Exclusion

Our faith tells us how we should relate to our neighbours. Jesus tells us to love our neighbours. In faith we know that this is not a selective admonition; we cannot arbitrarily discriminate who we define as neighbour and limit our love. Yet, never does Jesus guide us as to how to relate to matters between various of our neighbours. Far too often mutual exclusivity comes into play. In many cases, if I am to love one neighbour, I must necessarily deny another neighbour.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus has his Samaritan arrive after the attack, choose not to pass by but lovingly assist and support the stranger who had fallen among thieves. This is entirely a one-to-one, polar, relationship. What if Jesus had had the Samaritan arrive on the scene during the attack instead? The neighbour relationship would be triangular. The thieves are as equally the Samaritan’s neighbours as the stranger on the road to Jericho. Yet the choice is obvious: deny the thieves and, in love, defend the stranger, rendering whatever assistance may be necessary, even to the point of violence, to drive the thieves away from their target. There is no way around it, in order to love the stranger on the road to Jericho, the Samaritan would have to deny the thieves.

In real life, we face this dilemma almost constantly. The choice is often far more subtle than between thieves and a victim but the consequence remains: to love the one requires denial of the other. In subtlety, the choice becomes far more subjective and truly difficult. When neighbours' needs conflict, how do we decide which neighbour to love and which neighbour to deny? We must prayerfully determine this for ourselves as Jesus never tells us how to make the choice. I suspect some Christians become catatonic at the dilemma, never choose, and effectively deny both. I suspect also that people in the greater community may quickly give the label “hypocrite” to Christians who make a choice to deny love with which the greater community disagrees.