Our place in the international neighbourhood

7.06.2004 | Andrew Cameron and Tracy Gordon | Briefing 013  



Xenophilia is commanded of us: the neighbour whom we are to love is the foreigner whom we encounter on the road. [Oliver O'Donovan]

Jesus' repeated citation of Leviticus 19:18b, “love your neighbor as yourself”, has had a spectacular effect upon the world. As more and more people took this word seriously, the world eventually caught on to the fact that all people are equally precious—which is something like what is meant when people speak of ‘human rights’.

Of course a part of this story is the way Jesus also blew the doors right off any attempt to limit the idea [Luke 10:36-37]. Once a Samaritan treated a wounded Jew according to Lev. 19:18, there was no longer any space for the self justifying question, “and who is my neighbour?” After this incident, and Jesus' subsequent action to save people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” [Rev. 7:9], we become able to love people of different national or social groupings.

But for us, there is a downside to this development. It can be extremely draining to love neighbours when there are so many ‘neighbours’, and in an age where every night, television introduces us to hundreds or thousands or millions more, who we will never meet face-to-face. Love for the neighbour can easily degenerate into a vague sense that although people out there might matter, there's not much that we can do about it.

A good antidote to this is to focus again on particular people, who are nearby. John makes a related point when he says that “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” [1 Jn 4:18] The call to love, it seems, begins with those whom we live, work and church near. This stops it becoming abstract.

Is something like this also the case when it comes to thinking about other nations? The quotation above, from Oliver O'Donovan (who is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University), reflects a general position argued throughout his work that groups of people (such as nations) need to take an interest in particular groups of other people. That is, rather than holding a general goodwill for ‘the world’, we need to pay special attention to those with whom we share borders, or natural resources, or cultural ties, or the bonds of family.

The purpose of this briefing is to begin to help us think about the nation of East Timor. Rather than arguing for or against anything that is happening there, we simply want this to be a background briefing. Of course, thinking about whole other nations might not be for everybody: after all, you may already be hard pressed just to keep up with the particular people nearby. But since our leaders have a particular relationship with the people of East Timor, it makes sense if some of us become more familiar with the place and its people.

Over time, we will keep you posted on East Timor and will pass on more about the oil dispute. Perhaps we can all start noticing anything reported about East Timor, so as to become more knowledgeable about (and more able to love?) these near-neighbours.

Sources/Further Reading:

O'Donovan, Oliver, The Just War Revisited. Cambridge: University Press, 2003.

Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, Two Years On…What future for an independent East Timor, 20 May 2004; can be viewed at: http://www.oxfam.org.au/campaigns/submissions/easttimor/twoyearson.pdf

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade brief on East Timor: http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/east_timor/index.html


Tagged: love

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