Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who Was The Neighbor?

I recently read what Herman Bernstein, the United States Ambassador to Albania, wrote in 1934, “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths.”
     Albania, a small country on the southeast coast of the Balkan peninsula, then had a population of some 800,000. Of those only two hundred were Jews.
     After Hitler’s rise to power, as many as 1,800 Jews found temporary refuge in that country from Germany, Austria, Serbia, Greece and Yugoslavia, and when the Germans occupied the country in 1943, Albanians were for the most part united in their refusal to comply with orders to turn over lists of Jews within their borders. Official governmental agencies provided Jewish families with documentation that allowed them to identified as non-Jews and live safely among the rest of the population.
     This remarkable help given to persecuted Jews was grounded in the Muslim tradition of Besa, a strongly held code of honor in that country. Besa, means literally “to keep the promise.” Those who act according to Besa keep their word, and can be trusted with their very life. In that spirit, Albanians went out of their way to provide help to the strangers among them, resulting in their being more Jews in their country at the end of the war than at the beginning.
     This reminds me of the well known story Jesus once told of a beaten and robbed man left beside the road and ignored by good religious people who passed him by. In the story, given in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" he chooses a Samaritan as the hero who actually tends to the injured man's wounds and provides for his hospitality and care.
     Prejudicial attitudes toward Samaritans in Jesus' day were much like those of many Americans toward Moslems today. We look down on them as belonging to a religion that shares some of the same scriptures as we, claims to worship the same God, but which we consider unorthodox in its beliefs and practices.
     Jesus is not commending the man's religion in the story, but pointing out that when all is said and done, its what's done that is even more important than what's said, and that our do-ology is even more important than our theology.
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