Who is My Neighbor?

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 I like to listen to podcasts when I’m driving in my car.  Some of them are funny, some of them have to do with solving mysteries or learning about more about our human behavior or communicating better.  My favorite is Kind World which tells stories about how people are kind to each other.  Sometimes the people know each other, but most often the people are total strangers.  I’d like to share one of the stories with you.

 There was a young man who lived in the middle east in a predominantly Muslim, war-torn country.  He became aware of a school that was teaching a form of very radical Islam; one that promoted and taught terrorism.  He knew if he shared the information to the authorities, he and his family would be in danger, but he felt so strongly that what was going on was wrong that he eventually reported the information.  As a result, he was targeted for death and his family also became a target.  The young man fled his home and country and eventually was able to acquire a United States visa as a refugee.  He had little education, less than $200 in his pockets, and poor skills in the English language.  He ended up at a refugee center and asked for help.  A person at the center contacted a local couple who volunteered at the center and asked if they could take this young man into their home for 3 months.  Even though they knew nothing about this person, Suzy and Rob agreed to welcome him into their home.  Just prior to bringing the young man into their home, they were told he was a Muslim.  This fact caused some angst because Suzy and Rob are Jewish, but they were committed to house this young man for the 3 months they had agreed to.  On the day Suzy picked him up, their first stop was a grocery store where she told him to pick out whatever foods he liked.  The young man realized that this was the first time in months that anyone had offered him a choice in the food he could eat.  He understood this was a turning point for him because he was being shown love and appreciation.  The next day, Suzy brought the young man to the library and showed him how to check out books.  She showed him how to ride the local train, bought him clothes, took him to the dentist, and signed him up for English classes.  Through all this, the young man’s relationship with Suzy and Rob was growing and getting stronger.  The 3 month stay was soon forgotten.  They were becoming a family.  The young man began calling Suzy and Rob, mom and dad.  Their conversations became less stressful and more about topics they all enjoyed.  They spoke about religion and started comparing traditions and beliefs.  They discovered there were similarities.  The young man often calls himself a Muslim Jewish American.  He looks forward to Shabbat dinner every Friday night and helps get ready for the dinner and prayers.  The 3 months has turned into 5 years.  The young man is currently in his third year of college, has a job and a girlfriend.  He calls this his family and says he wants to take care of Suzy and Rob (both now 71) in their old age.  He recognizes the gift Suzy and Rob gave him, the gift of hope.  The young man is still unable to return to his home country and visit his family there but he is able to communicate with them.  He has dinner with his American family every night and is so very grateful for the kindness that Suzy and Rob showed him, a total stranger.

 The Gospel from Luke we heard today is a very familiar one.  The lawyer challenged Jesus in an adversarial manner when he asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. LK 10:25  He knew the law and he was trying to trip up Jesus in his reply.  Instead, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer asking what did the law say?  The lawyer quotes the “summary of the law”, love God and love your neighbor, but he continues to press Jesus in order to further assert himself.  He asks then, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29  Jesus then tells the parable of the good Samaritan.  During this time, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan.  They were despised by the people of Israel and the Samaritans in turn despised the people of Israel, yet Jesus uses the example of the Samaritan as the person who showed pity, who had great empathy and compassion for the victim.  The Samaritan showed him kindness, taking care of his wounds,making sure he was cared for, and paying for his room and board. 

 Try to visualize a scenario that brings this to life for you.  Are you an LSU football fan?  Visualize an Alabama fan taking care of the poor LSU fan who partied too much after the Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide.  Or maybe the Saints receiver who was interfered with when trying to catch a pass from Drew Brees helping the referee who failed to make the call change the flat tire on his vehicle after the game.  The list could go on and on.  We can insert ourselves into many of the pictures.

 Jesus constantly uses parables to help us realize our stereotypes, to help us realize our eccentric traits and excellent talents.  These parable inspire and humble as well as challenge and comfort.  In answer to the question, ‘who is my neighbor’, Jesus teaches that our neighbor is anyone who needs help that we have a means to provide, despite cultural, social, or religious differences.  The real issue is not who is my neighbor, but who acts as my neighbor.  Those who follow Jesus are called to act as the Samaritan did when he acted, not for himself, but for the other.  We can know what the law says, just as the lawyer who challenged Jesus, but do we act in love as Jesus teaches and reach out to help our neighbors, the others?  We can show compassion because we have been first loved by God.

 May we follow Jesus’ path and recognize as neighbors as anyone who needs our help.  May we provide that help as followers of Christ are called to do.  In Christ, we can “go and do likewise” by loving and serving our neighbor.