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Jerry Earl Johnston: Our duty doesn't end with family; it begins with family

Stained glass windows in the chapel at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Provo depict the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
Stained glass windows in the chapel at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Provo depict the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

The youngest sister hadn’t been asked to play the Good Samaritan. She just couldn’t help herself.

Her role was to be one of the callous travelers who ignore a person in need. But when her sister cried, “Help,” she couldn’t simply pass her by. She rushed to her aid.

My friend Barry Richardson told that story about his family’s recent “reenactment” of the parable. He said his first impulse was to run over and keep his young daughter from ruining the production.

Then it hit him.

She was teaching them all a lesson.

No matter what label the older girl had been asked to wear — injured traveler, performer, Jew, victim — the only label her little sister saw was “sister.”

All the other labels evaporated.

And that’s a lesson that people have been trying to learn for 2,000 years.

When I see people, I label them: old, young, Asian, Hispanic, rich or poor. But those labels should never stick.

The only labels that matter are “sister” and “brother.”

All men are brothers.

And if all men are brothers, then all kids are cousins.

That's a second lesson I've been trying to digest this week.

For our family Fourth of July this year, we had two dozen young cousins at our house.

What began years ago as a picnic for a few has bloomed into a cookout for 60 to 70.

And almost everyone who shows up for the barbecue is related to everyone else.

And that kinship creates a whole new way of relating.

This year I saw teenagers playing with 6-year-olds.

I saw rowdy kids controlling themselves and saw timid souls turn into go-getters.

I saw boys and girls laughing and playing together. (Apparently, the law of the family says "a cousin never has cooties.")

Usually the world is a fruit stand featuring boxes filled with different shapes, colors and sizes of fruit.

But at a family gathering, the boxes and barriers break apart. The fruit stand becomes a fruit salad. Everybody gets tumbled together in a jumble of tastes and textures.

An old Western maxim says a Colt .45 is the “great equalizer.”

Not so.

Family is the great equalizer.

And the ultimate goal is to learn to treat everyone — not just blood relatives — as if they were family.

When we finally master that, we will have mastered the Master’s plan.

It is an almost impossible task worth pursuing with vigor.

Raising a loving family isn’t our final goal.

It's the starting point.

Our final goal is to feel familial love for everybody.

It’s part of that “love thy enemy” business.

It’s about seeing the biggest jerk as worthy of our affection; worthy because he’s part of the family — God’s family.

My friend Barry’s little daughter is off to a good start in that respect.

She already knows how to peel away the labels that don't matter. She knows a sister when she sees one.

With a little luck, maybe the rest of us can catch up to her.