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Friday, December 1, 2023

Who is thy neighbour?

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With Aicha

The prophet Jesus spoke to his disciples and told them that you should love thy neighbour as you love yourself.
(thy is a very old word and it means your)
Ok, what is this about? Who is my neighbour? I mean, you live in the Gambia, right, so you know the names of your neighbours, their aunts and cousins and who is from what tribe or town or some hidden compound somewhere far, far away. It’s very different here in Sweden because you can live your whole life in an apartment house and have not even said hello to anyone. If it’s a tall house and it has an elevator then heaven forbid that you speak to someone you don’t know in there. That is something we just don’t do here! The problem is in this very limited space that you don’t know where to look. Well, nowadays everyone is looking down because we don’t lift our eyes from our phones for too long.

God in his greatness must have given someone the idea to create an item which everyone can look so they don’t need to do that scary thing: looking at each other and….. speak with each other! What an awful thought, to speak to someone you don’t know! We can act as we are looking at something very interesting and don’t look up at all. No one will notice that you are faking because everyone else is occupied with their own phones.
You can also have some mental problems and go and speak with yourself, as long as you keep the headphones in your ears no one will notice that you only speak to the voices in your head.

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Ok, enough with the joking and back to more serious business. What did the prophet Jesus mean; we are supposed to love our neighbour as we love ourselves?
Why did he even mention it? Was it because someone came to him, complaining about some neighbours that have been disturbing them for a while, or what?
No, the prophet was questioned by some people about the two most important commitments. His reply was that you should love your God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your neighbour as yourself.
When someone asked; who is my neighbour the prophet Jesus answered by telling a metaphor. The prophet was a skilled pedagog, he often spoke in metaphors because these made it easier for the illiterate to comprehend the message. When you speak about something that can be hard to understand, if you are not ”in the game”, it is easier to translate it to a context you actually know of.

If you feel that something is too far away from your own experience it will stop you from listening, especially if you feel that the one who is speaking to you is not willing to give you an easy explanation. As a teacher, the prophet Jesus is one of my rolemodels, I often use metaphors when I need to explain something for my pupils.
The metaphor the prophet gave all his listeners told about a man who was walking a path in the mountains. It was a dangerous journey because this place was known for its rough nature and also the robbers that hid behind the rocks waiting for a new victim.

The man had bad luck, he got robbed and beaten, all his belongings were taken and they left him laying on the path, naked and bleeding.
A priest passed by but didn’t bother to help the half-dead man.
Another man came after a while, he was studying to become a priest but neither he bothered to stop and help the poor injured man.

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Imagine to lay there, in pain and helpless and see these men ignore you!
Finally, when the victim had given up hope a third man came. This man was from Samaria so the bleeding man thought to himself that hope is out because he knew that nothing good came from there.
To his surprise the Samaria man lifted him up, took care of his wounds and brought him to a tavern. The Samaria man told the owner of the tavern to take care of the wounded guest, left some money for the expenses and told that he would be back in a week.

The story ends there, but what did the prophet Jesus want to tell us with it?
Compassion, my friends! He gave his listeners then, and us now, a lesson about empathy and compassion.
The wounded man in the story didn’t believe that he would get help because the last man was from Samaria and ”everyone” knew that nothing good came from there.
He had expected the priest to be helpful, as we might expect from a pious man, but he turned his face from the wounds and rushed away so he wouldn’t get attacked too. The second man, who was training to become a priest, would have got a perfect lesson in love for our fellow human being, but also he decided to save his own skin first.

What can we learn from these three men; that action speaks louder than words. Speaking about love, singing beautiful hymns to God, praying so others can see it, praising oneself for being pious and a good person is worth nothing if you can’t show it in your actions. When someone is in need of help it is very easy to turn the other way and pretend that we don’t see. Someone else will come and help, we might think, and by the way I am so terribly busy at the moment and ….oh dear…. there is blood too and I wear new shoes! Can’t have blood on my new shoes, can I? No! Someone else has to take care of it! Sorry! Bye, bye….and off we go.
The last man, the one from Samaria, was no one special, just an ordinary guy but with a great heart.

The land Samaria, at the time when the prophet Jesus lived, was situated between the region Galilee in the north and the region Judea in the south. Jews who wanted to travel from Galilee to Judea, or the opposite, would rather take the six-day long journey along the River Jordan valley than the shorter, more direct way through Samaria because of an ancient feud. The Jews avoided the Samaritans because of their bitter history.
After this small history lesson we will go back to the story about the Samaritan man. No one expected anything good from him, at least not the Jews, and the only reason was that he was from Samaria. Maybe he didn’t look like the Jews, wore a bit different kind of clothes, had a name that wasn’t familiar.

We don’t know anything about his background, because it was his actions that were in focus and nothing else. He was from Samaria and that was bad in the eyes of the Jews. They didn’t bother to get to know him or the other Samaritans because everyone” knew that if you came from Samaria you were bad. A Samaritan man couldn’t be a good father or a skilled doctor, a Samaritan woman couldn’t be a good mother who grieved if something happened to her children. The Samaritan children….. too many and more yet to come so who cared of some of them died because of a feud or some illness?
If we would take this story and place it somewhere near in modern time, would we recognize the story? All of us know of feuds or wars, of people we expect the worst of just because ”everyone” says so.

We feel our own pain and sorrow but those we don’t know or those we don’t like for some reason their emotions are not as deep as ours. Or? When we heard about the Rohingya Muslims, in Burma, who were killed in thousands, not long ago, could we imagine their pain? The women, many of them young girls too young to have sex, were raped by the Buddhist soldiers. These women are now facing the bitter consequences of this as they must give birth to the innocent babies that are the result of most of the rapes. Being raped is considered as shameful and the women, and the girls, are on their own. The husbands feel so embarrassed so they refuse to care for the new child. The unmarried girls and young women have no chance to become married because of this stigma.

We can go so much deeper in to this tragedy but that would take an article that is three times longer than this.
It is strange that we so easily can condemn what others do, in other countries or cultures, but we have troubles to see what is in front of us. All of us know about some people that ”everyone” else say are bad. We have our opinions clear and nothing can change them, or is that possible? If we get to know each other we suddenly see the person behind the ragged clothes, or the Rasta hair or the uniform. We see that the person with the ragged clothes almost never eats because he wants to be sure that his wife and children are fed first. We see that the tall guy with the Rasta hair is taking care of his sick Mum and every dalasi he is able to earn – maybe as a bumster – goes to buy her medication. We also see that the man in the uniform is a kind father who wishes nothing else but to come home to his wife and children when the long and dangerous working day is finally over.

It doesn’t help to pray five times or more every day, to fast and to give zakat whenever we can if we don’t do it with our hearts. Why bother how others are living, how they dress, if they laugh loud or not at all? Why envy the one who has got a high position somehow if that person actually has deserved it? Not everyone can study but everyone can do better. Decide what is better for you and for your family and try to achieve that. Fulfill your dreams or help someone else to fulfill theirs.

What can be done for those who fled the poverty for the back way and now have come back without anything? Do we consider their ”failure” as a stigma so we don’t talk about it?
What do we know about their trauma? What have they seen that haunts them in their dreams? What pain have they felt in their bodies and souls when their friends died in the desert or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea? Do we speak about it or do we only focus on the fact that the money their parents had to spend on these journeys was a waste? We really don’t need to rub this in their faces, they know that already. Those who have come back have to face their parents and see their disappointment every day. What can be done for these families? What can be done to prevent more families to face the same fate?
I know one thing we all can do, no matter who it concerns; show compassion.
There is an old proverb, from the native Americans: ”Do not criticize another until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”.

So, my dear friend, who is thy neighbour?

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