Walking Our Faith: Who is my neighbor? (column)
February 2, 2018
Last night Mom baked a ham that was so huge, she had to ask Alice, her 80-year-old neighbor, to come over to help her to lift it in and out of the oven. When this 20-pound ham was done, Mom called her neighbors and invited them to come for dinner, and take any leftover ham home for meals in the coming days.
This is a regular occurrence for Mom and her friends. They share meals together almost every day, mostly informal "bring what you have" affairs where those who don't cook bring beverages or trade a home-cooked meal for laundering a load of clothes, or a run to the post office for someone who no longer drives. Not everyone will give the same thing, but each will give from what they do best.
What is most remarkable is that before Mom arrived three years ago, most of these condominium neighbors rarely spoke to one another, or even left their apartments for anything but necessity. To be honest, they are a motely bunch ranging in age from 60 to 91 (Mom), with little in common other than proximity. However, over the past three years Mom has brought them into the orbit of her apartment and created a community where not only are meals shared, but where more importantly, they look after one another since they all live alone.
I began thinking about how we create communities, or don't, with those living closest to us after reading an essay by Kathleen Norris in her book, "Amazing Grace." She recounts the parable of the good Samaritan, which includes one of my favorite teachings of Jesus: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
News stories tell me we are more divided than ever. And I imagine a dark chasm with people lined along the cliffs on either side, their arms folded, their backs turned away from one another. What does it mean to be a neighbor? ... What if, instead of turning our backs, we turn around and extend our hand?
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However, as they say, context is everything. In this case, Jesus said this in answer to a question by a legal scholar of Mosaic Law. The legal scholar responded to Jesus' answer with another question: "Who is my neighbor?"
"Who is my neighbor?" is a question we consider daily. Is my neighbor an immigrant who has overstayed their visa? Is my neighbor someone whose income, education or race makes us different in every way? Or since I live in a resort community, what if my neighbor is only here for a few weekends each year, or I consider that the majority of the people sharing the pews with me on Sunday are from out of town? Are any of these people my neighbor?
"Who is my neighbor?" the legal scholar asked.
Instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan: "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
"A Samaritan (a foreigner) traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable." (Luke 10:32-35)
Jesus finished the parable by asking the legal scholar, "Which man do you think was the neighbor?"
News stories tell me we are more divided than ever. And I imagine a dark chasm with people lined along the cliffs on either side, their arms folded, their backs turned away from one another. What does it mean to be a neighbor? Is it as simple as an invitation to a shared meal? Or a small act of kindness for someone who will never know of our generosity? What if, instead of turning our backs, we turn around and extend our hand?
There will be a moment when we find ourselves in the ditch. Will we accept the kindness of a good Samaritan, even if he's not our neighbor? And when the moment arises, as it surely will, will we be good Samaritans for a stranger?
If we are followers of Christ, and desire to be more like Christ, will we extend a neighborly hand even if the man in the ditch does not share our beliefs?
"You shall love … your neighbor as yourself," said Jesus Christ.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or Facebook.com/SuzanneElizabeths
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