Some years ago, a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the more prominently underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.”
This is the great new problem of our time. We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together-black and white, Easterner and Westerner, gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu-a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace. (Martin Luther King, Jr’s introduction to his talk, “The World House”)
The world’s religions all agree it isn’t complicated to live in peace, simply “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus simplified it even more, “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Who is our neighbour? Anyone beyond ourselves.
Author Saul Bellows tells the story of a rabbi in a small village who mysteriously disappeared every Friday. It was whispered, and the villagers sincerely believed, that on those days he ascended to Heaven itself. A newcomer to the village heard this and was extremely skeptical. So, making sure he was not seen, he stealthily followed the rabbi one Friday. He saw the rabbi change into the clothes of a peasant. Then, carrying an axe, he went into a nearby forest where he cut down a tree. He cut the tree into fire logs. Gathering enough for a week’s burning he took them to the home of an old and frail woman. After that, he returned to the village, changing back into his usual clothes.
And ever afterwards, when the villagers declared that every Friday their rabbi ascended to Heaven, the newcomer would say under his breath, “If not higher.”
May we all ascend higher than heaven by our daily selfless acts of caring for our neighbours.