Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church
Jesus is Our Neighbor, by the Rev. Joel Boyd
August 7, 2022
30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:30-37, NRSV).
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?…
Won’t you be my neighbor?
That, of course, is a brief excerpt from the famous introductory song to the PBS TV series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I know a few of you had hoped to hear it. These last couple of weeks we’ve been taking a bit of a walk alongside Mister Rogers and his modern-day friend Daniel Tiger, with our Bible in hand and our eyes wide open. We’ve been exploring not only what it means to be neighbors to one another, but what happens when we call and treat certain neighborhoods differently from one another, especially when we consider some good and others bad. It’s been amazing, really, hasn’t it, to see how much has changed in our world since Mister Rogers first appeared in the 1960s; and, as we see so clearly both in scripture and in our own present-day lives, other things have changed so shockingly little and that’s not necessarily a positive thing.
We’ve explored what happens when people call a neighborhood ‘bad;’ and how our avoidance and disparaging comments lead to a lack of the neighborly solidarity we are called to even as far back as Leviticus 19, from which Jesus himself quotes in teaching the people about their priorities. Friends, we have also explored the siren song of extravagance in the way affluence and luxury can be blinding to our vocation, as well as to our identity, to the way we understand who we really are as a people. Like Fred Rogers, I, too, am a classically trained musician and composer and an ordained minister. But, I’m afraid, that’s where our similarities cease (at least on a personal level). I’ve always admired the man and his work. I have no doubt that he felt his true calling—his vocation—as a Christian was to engage people through the then-emerging medium of television. And boy did he ever achieve that. The stories and conversations Fred Rogers had on his show were always respectful and insightful, leaning into the welcome of the other person. The focus was primarily on children, literally millions of children, and the message was as direct as it was heartfelt: you matter.
I was swept away when the show shifted off into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, usually, the place where important questions were asked and loving, affirming answers were given. Who wouldn’t want to live in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe? It always seems so far away, doesn’t it? And yet, the truth of the matter is that the dreams of yesterday may become the everyday reality of today and the hope for tomorrow. Right before our passage from Luke this morning, the lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Feeling as if he gave a satisfactory answer to Jesus’ reply regarding the commandments, the lawyer now asks, “and who is my neighbor?” Some scholars think the lawyer was a showoff, trying to make himself look good, acting as if he knows as much as the teacher.
But there’s a much more serious, disturbing backdrop to this question. Inquiring who one’s neighbor is implies that some are not. In essence, the lawyer is asking who he really needs to be bothered to worry about. Once he’s got that down, perhaps he figures he can just ignore everyone else. He’s done what’s required of him. But Jesus changes the focus of the lawyer’s question. Rather than answer who our neighbor is, Jesus shows how we are a true neighbor to others. Biblical scholars tell us that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous then. It would have been a common location for robberies and not a very safe place to travel. When we first look at this famous passage, we always find ourselves kind of dismissing the priest and Levite; almost like saying “What’s with those guys? Don’t they care about people?” And then, likely, we remember how many homeless, unhoused, people we have walked by ourselves, and we feel guilty. But there’s a bit more to why these guys respond the way they do. The dead would have been considered unclean, so those who encountered a dead body would want to avoid it so it wouldn’t compromise their ability to be at the Temple (ha-Beit Mikdash). This was likely more so for a priest, someone highly important to Temple worship, or a Levite, someone a little lower in stature than a priest but still someone who’d be concerned about being unclean. This is the reason the two passed by the injured Israelite. Note how Luke refers to the man as being half-dead as opposed to dead. The man may have been in such rough shape that the priest and Levite couldn’t tell the difference and may have assumed he was dead.
Now the big shift takes place when Jesus mentions a Samaritan in this story. Some may remember that Samaritans and Israelites were not on friendly terms with one another. They have had a long history of conflict and would not have understood one another to be good neighbors. So, the fact that Jesus shows a Samaritan to be the one caring for and helping the injured Israelite it’s a bit of a scandal. He’s essentially saying that the outsider, the one you don’t like, is the guy who is helping your buddy here in this story. Bandaging wounds and treating the man with oil and wine show that the Samaritan was not as concerned about being unclean, even though ritual cleanness would have also been a concern of Samaritans as they followed the law of Moses, too. Oil and wine would act as disinfectants, but it’s also interesting to consider for a moment what associations there may be here to anointing and to communion. The Samaritan proceeds to put the man on his own animal. Since Luke doesn’t write about a second animal, we assume the Samaritan is not someone of great means, but is, in fact, someone who places himself in the lowly position of walking with the animal while the injured man rides on it.
Rather than do everything himself, and perhaps botch things, the Samaritan takes the injured Israelite to an inn to be cared for appropriately, essentially getting him what he needs. He gives just enough money to the innkeeper for the care and says that if anything further is really needed, he will pay for that, too, when he returns. This all shows that the Samaritan was giving the injured Israelite precisely what he needed. The Samaritan bridged the gap that was needed to bring the injured man to health. Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Some translations say “mercy,” and others “compassion.” Note what they don’t say is to have pity. While pity has to do with our feeling bad that someone must endure suffering, having mercy on them is characterized by action, and being compassionate colors that action to show perhaps a greater sense of intentionality and love for the person being cared for. By having compassion for one who is in need, we acknowledge our responsibility to act, and we do so with purpose. In doing so, we bear witness to the dreams of the past and how they have, at this moment, encouraged and empowered us to make an intentional decision to actively help another person. We can dream into the action of today, and we do so because of the great hope we have that we are not alone, that there is great purpose in our dreams, in our actions, and in our hoping. We can be that neighbor who sacrifices because Jesus has shown us how, not only in this story, but in the way he crosses barriers, welcomes, truly heals, raises up the lowly above the kings, and in the way, he defeated all brokenness for us and for all humankind when he died on the cross for our sake that we may be reconciled, that we may love, hope, that we may dream anew.
Sisters and brothers, our dreams are important because we are important. And we mean everybody. Each one of us is important, not only to our families and friends, our jobs, schools, and the neighborhoods we live in, or the beautiful changes we make into a beautiful tomorrow, but we, all of us, are important to God. And I’d like to suggest here that this is the primary reason for the urgent need for solidarity. For it is by living out our calls by the power of the Holy Spirit as followers of Jesus Christ that we may give glory to God the Father, and today we witness the powerful way we may give glory to God by living in solidarity with one another as God calls us to. No doubt any one of us could be the priest or Levite of Jesus’ story today. We could find that suffering neighbor to be unclean and pass them by. We could think they’re half dead, that perhaps, it’s just not worth our time, our effort, or even a small amount of our energy, to try and help them. We could simply not identify with them, considering them to be other, wholly different from ourselves. We could do that. Or we could hear what Jesus is really calling us to see in the suffering neighbor: we can answer the call to be the neighbor to this person in need. Jesus shows us that a neighborhood is not comprised of people who live across the street from our house. No, Jesus shows us that a neighborhood is made up of real flesh and blood people who are neighbors to one another. We are neighbors because we act like we are together in the same neighborhood. What need is there to call one place bad and another good when we live, love, worship, and dream together?
I don’t know, maybe like some of you, I just got all excited about zipping up that sweater after coming inside to get cozy, sitting down to switch over into those comfy shoes, just like Fred Rogers did. But maybe we’re called to more than that than to just be comfy. Sure, Mister Rogers did all that, but he also lived a life of neighborliness in each show for over 30 years. And just think of all the faithful in Scripture and the everyday saints in the life of the Church Universal, who have devoted their lives to bless others, to bridge the gap if not entirely erase the false barrier between people. Friends, when the call to be neighbor to God’s people in need cries out, even in silent proximity, when it sings to us “won’t you be my neighbor?” may we answer in our faith, in our hope, and in our love; the love of Christ Jesus. May we answer yes! May we be neighbors; just as Jesus is our neighbor. May we be neighbors to the glory of God.