I AM THE NEIGHBOR (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on November 20, 2019)
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood. A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” For decades those words were heard on TV screens in homes all across America. Mr. Fred Rogers had a unique and gentle way of talking to children, without becoming silly. His show dealt with concerns, such as: why kids shouldn’t be afraid of a haircut, how to deal with the death of a family pet, what to do when going to a new school, and even tough issues like divorce, disabilities, and racism. Mr. Rogers, who was also a pastor, reminded everyone to be a good neighbor. But, he was not the first to do so. The idea of being a good neighbor has been around for over 2000 years. In fact, Jesus, in his famous parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, gave its true definition—“A true neighbor is one who shows mercy to those unlike himself/herself and even puts money behind it.”
To understand the true intent of the parable, we have to read the whole context, starting in Luke 9. Here we find Jesus making his final journey towards Jerusalem to give his life on the cross. Along the way, he had to pass through a Samaritan village. As sworn enemies of the Jewish people, the Samaritans refused to let the Promised Savior come through, instead of welcoming him. The disciples were ticked, to say the least. Listen to them in Luke 9:54 “…Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Instead of commending them for standing up for him, Jesus rebuked them, saying, 55 “…You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
A few verses later in Luke 10, Jesus commissioned seventy of his disciples to go before him and preach the good news. But, he warned them not to retaliate when rejected. They returned with reports of joy and Jesus praised his Father saying, 23 “…Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; 24 for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.” To what Jesus was referring, was life in the kingdom or eternal life. Many of us mistakenly think that eternal life is what happens once we die but that’s not true. It begins now when we join God in changing the world. We see the unseen and hear the unheard.
Just then, a certain lawyer asked Jesus, 25 “…Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, he wanted to get in on the action. Jesus asked him what he thought about the law. He gave the right answer—”Love God and love my neighbor.” Jesus told him to go do it. But trying to justify himself, he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” At this point, Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. As the story goes, a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho (which is still a deserted highway) fell among thieves who beat him up and left him die. A priest passed by and a Levite did the same. Then, a certain Samaritan (not just another Jewish person) came by and had mercy on the wounded man. He bandaged his “sworn enemy,” poured oil and wine on his wounds, set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he gave two denarii to the innkeeper and promised him, 35 “…Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” Then Jesus asked a strange question—36 “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” Of course, the answer was “the Samaritan.” The moral of the parable is that we shouldn’t ask “Who is my neighbor?” but “Who needs a neighbor?” Sometimes, it may lead you to help those who are least like you. And one more thing: being a good neighbor requires that you put some money behind your mercy. It’s a distinguishing mark of those who have eternal life.
Are you a good neighbor?