Who is my neighbor? Love at a time of physical distance?

by Hanbeet Rhee last modified 09 April 2020 05:32 PM
Who is my neighbor? Love at a time of physical distance?

A counselor at the St. Francis Care Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, talks with a client (2009). Paul Jeffrey/WCC

09 April 2020

May God's comfort and love be with you who are holding up every day in the midst of the coronavirus.

We lost our normal lives very quickly and we are experiencing limitations of human being in the face of such a sudden disaster. The number of confirmed cases and deaths that flow out of the news every day seems unrealistic, and this painful reality puts us in deep frustration.

But standing in front of coronavirus and Holy Thursday, I think we need to deeply rethink what it is participation in suffering of Jesus Christ.

Right after the outbreak of coronavirus, I've seen how much more severe this disaster is for the weak. In the face of the fear of death, many people began to self-quarantine at safe places.

But not everyone was able to safely quarantine by themselves. Some people were living in groups, not in independent spaces, so quarantine itself cannot be established, and they were exposed to a high risk of infection, and some people experienced mental health problems because they had to stay in very small spaces over two weeks. For some, quarantine is also a separation from the social safety net. Some disabled people who need activity assistance were threatened with survival, because they couldn’t get any support from government during self-quarantine. Children under threat of domestic violence became more easily exposed to violence, because they didn’t go to school, where social monitoring systems exist. While continuing economic deterioration and social unrest have increased violence at home, the system against the outbreak of COVID-19 has left the weak unprotected, and sometime seriously in danger.

Looking at the reality in this society, I came up with the conversation between a certain lawyer and Jesus in Luke, chapter 10. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor” of Jesus, who said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He asked, “Who would be my neighbor?” But through the story of the Samaritan, Jesus said to the lawyer, "Who became the neighbor of the man who fell among the thieves?" This question was a diversion of thought. Jesus told him that the true meaning of 'being a neighbor is not waiting for someone willing to be your neighbor, but to go find and be with those who have met thieves in life, those who are suffering, and those who are isolated and marginalized from society. So we need to ask ourselves whether we are waiting for our neighbor to come to us, or we are ready to “Go and do likewise.”

In Korea, along with COVID-19, a cyber sexual exploitation issue called 'Nth Room' has emerged. Only now, at this time, this case arises and has been discovered properly, but it has been taking place in Telegram since early last year and many victims are minors. The sexual offenders called the victims 'slaves’ and threatened them with filming pornographic materials. The offenders of this case were very organized in oppressing the victims, and by estimates, 260,000 people actively searched, saw and paid for the materials, and even took part in direct rape.

While we are dreaming to go back to the normal lives and society, this case shows that the society was not safe for everyone to begin with. So after COVID-19, we cannot, and should not, go back to that ‘normal society,’ and we need to dream a better society, which loves and protects the weak, especially victims of gender-based violence.

Thinking again back to the meaning of participation in the suffering of Jesus. Because Jesus loved us, loved all the creatures until death, Jesus chose the path of suffering and reached the cross. And Jesus told us "Love your neighbor as yourself." The way to participate in the suffering of Jesus is to love, and it means becoming neighbors of more isolated and marginalized people who are living together in this world like the Samaritan, on touching the wounds of the wounded, sharing the pain, and continuing to be concerned and stand in solidarity. Physical constraints cannot split our love. Especially, in this time of remembering the suffering of Jesus and waiting for the resurrection of Jesus, let us extend our love in different ways in the communities and societies.

Let us pray for the safety for all in the midst of coronavirus,

And Let us pray that the love of all of us participating in the suffering of Jesus will make safe societies for all people in the near future.


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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