Neighbors

The story of the “Good Samaritan” is pretty famous.  Jesus told it thousands of years ago when a religious leader asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything that we have.  But Jesus went on tell the second greatest command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Well, this religious leader wanted some clarification.  He asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’ answer, the story of the “Good Samaritan”, seems innocent to us, but it was appalling and offensive to some of those listening to him.   During that time, Jews considered Samaritans low-class and treated them harshly.  As a result, the Samaritans avoided and disliked the Jews.  For some of us, it’s hard to understand that ancient tension.  Perhaps it would be easier to understand if the story were retold it to fit the current USA culture.  I’ll try to do this with the parable of the “Good Illegal Alien”.

Late one evening a white, middle-class, church-going business man was walking to his car after a long day at work.  As he walked past an alley, a couple thugs jumped him, beat him until he was unconscious, and stole everything he had.  They fled, leaving him for dead.  By chance, a well-respected pastor drove into the lot.  But when he saw the man lying nearby, he immediately went in search of another place to park.  Soon a young man passed by on his way home from a meeting of the Evangelical Republicans Organization.  He looked at the man, but quickened his step as he passed.   Hours later, an illegal immigrant slowly approached the still-unconscious man.  He recognized the man; they worked in the same building.  The man was an office manager and the immigrant was the janitor for that area of the building.  Often the manager had called the janitor insulting names and used him as the victim of practical jokes.  But without hesitation, the janitor flagged down a passing car and asked them to call an ambulance.  He stayed with the manager, caring for the wounds as best he could, until help arrived.  He called the hospital early the next morning to find that the manager would be fine in just a couple days.  That afternoon, at work, he made sure the manager’s office was spotless, and he left a welcome-back card on his desk.

After telling the parable, Jesus asked the religious leader, “Who was the neighbor to the man who was attacked?” 

“The one who had mercy.” replied the religious leader.

“Go and do likewise.” said Jesus.

What did Jesus mean by the phrase “Go and do likewise”?  As he did so often, Jesus turned the focus of the discussion 180 degrees.  When Jesus said the second greatest command was to love our neighbor, the religious leader wanted to focus on who qualified as a neighbor.  But Jesus didn’t allow him to view it that way.  He doesn’t allow me, either.

I don’t need to look at a person and wonder if they are my neighbor.  Everyone is my neighbor.  They are my neighbor whether they are Jew, Samaritan, Atheist, immigrant, descendent of an immigrant, executive, janitor, rude, or considerate. 

It’s not a question of who is my neighbor.  The real question is, “To who am I to be a neighbor?”   And the answer to that is “everyone”.   

Go and do likewise.

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1 Comment

Filed under Christianity

One response to “Neighbors

  1. Jody

    Phipps – love this one! I think that sometimes we have a hard time applying some of the parables to our lives because live looks so different for us – on the outside. This contextualization brings this parable (as true today as 2000 years ago) home! Thanks!

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