Third Sunday of Lent: Love Your Marginalized Neighbor As Yourself

J. Nicole Morgan

“. . . his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman. . . . The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ . . . .Many Samaritans from the town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” John 4: 27-29, 39

When I’m not thinking about peace in the Middle East, I’m thinking about peace with our bodies. I’m an embodiment theologian – someone who thinks about how our bodies relate to God and also our neighbors. We are all familiar with the idea of fighting our bodies and seeking to control them into submission in search of some spiritual or soul-purity. Think about how we often equate whether or not our bodies are healthy, or a certain size, with whether or not they are holy and pleasing to God – when there is no correlation between those two things. A well-documented tragedy of history (that many still ascribe to) is the belief that having a body of a certain race or ethnicity made one further from God. When we degrade the bodies of others, or we attempt to minimize the importance of bodies, we become disembodied. We lose the connection between the fact that God created our bodies in God’s image and that our presence walking around on this earth is an extension of being God’s presence on this earth. We’re supposed to show people who God is with the entirety of who we are. We are supposed to remember that we are looking at the image of God when we look at other people.

I’m passionate about learning how to connect with our bodies as an important part of our faith because I think it better equips us to fulfill The Great Commandment. We are called to love God with all of our heart and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we are disembodied, when we don’t love as our complete physical-mental-spiritual selves, then it’s more difficult to extend that same all-inclusive love to our neighbors. Part of Lent is sacrifice and fasting so that we can refocus on these kinds of basic truths about who God is, who we are, and how we are created to exist in this world.

We so often, through history and in so many ways today, oppress others in the hope of securing some type of empty security for ourselves. We hope somehow that if we can step on the back of someone lower on the social rung than us that we can make ourselves safer or acquire more power and prestige for our own lives. This is a direct contradiction to Jesus’ teaching that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

When Jesus showed up and talked to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, he was breaking social rules both by talking to a Samaritan and by speaking with a woman. Her body didn’t fit the rules of who was supposed to be valued or who was an acceptable person with whom to have a conversation. We see Jesus’ disciples surprise that he is talking with a woman. Jesus, the one who rejects the power and the security of the world in the name of embracing the Kingdom of God, corrects his disciples. Jesus saw the Samaritan woman as worthy of inclusion and respect. The isolation of the Samaritans continues today in the West Bank village of Kiryat Luza on Mt. Gerizim.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly pushes back on the social rules and norms about who is more important and welcomes those who are the outsiders, those painted as dangerous, and those who have a low standing in the views of popular culture.

As people made in the image of God, in this world as a representative of God, and called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves: the same calling applies to us. We are compelled to seek out and love those who are marginalized and excluded, those who live lives in bodies that others have deemed less than, and those who face discrimination and suffering under oppression.

Everyone – no matter their body or nationality or ethnicity – is welcome. And we see the fruit of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4: “Many Samaritans in that town believed in him.”

We are hearing news out of Bethlehem from this past week as the city is on quarantine after reports of residents and local employees with Covid-19. While there is much wisdom in the calls for quarantines and social distancing as our world faces this unprecedented pandemic, the citizens of Bethlehem, who already face movement restrictions under the occupation, are met with one more example of how their bodies are ignored and marginalized in the name of someone else’s security and power. Life continues in less confining ways for people who live a few miles away in Jerusalem and Israel in bodies that are not called “Palestinian.” Those who wish to control bodies use whatever tools and ideas are present to enable and enforce their belief that some bodies are more deserving of judgment, scorn, and punishment than others.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (and to love even our enemies.) May we both seek to elevate the voices of those facing oppression in Palestine and advocate for their rights with our elected officials. May this season of Lent widen our vision to see the neighbors in our own towns and communities who are marginalized and who may be suffering more in these days as we face the fear and uncertainty of this disease. May we seek ways to love our neighbors’ bodies as well – to feed them and care for them and offer comfort in whatever ways we can as we seek to be images of God here on earth.

A Prayer for Peace: Creator God who formed each of us in your image, who saw our frame before it came to be, may we be reminded of the way your image is also present in the bodies of our neighbors – both local and global. Open our eyes to see where people are being oppressed and give us the courage and conviction to speak up and stand up in the name of love and justice and peace. Amen. 

J. Nicole Morgan is CMEP’s Director of Operations.

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