Columnist: How to embody being a neighbor
While driving to a meeting not long ago, I passed a florist truck. I couldn’t help but notice the advertisement on the side of the truck. The advertisement read, “Flowers whisper how you feel.”
Undoubtedly, that’s true! Flowers do whisper how we feel. But perhaps even more, compassion whispers how we feel.
In the familiar parable, the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The answerer replied, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36,37).
You know the story, and I am going to paraphrase it. A man was driving down a certain street in Atlanta. As he pulled up to a light, a carjacker forced him out of his automobile, beat him up, took his cash and vehicle and left him in the street half dead.
Now, by chance, a religious leader was going down the same street, but when he spied the man, he angled over to the other side. He was already 20 minutes late to a committee meeting. Shortly thereafter, a city social worker came by, took a look and also angled over to the other side. She was in a hurry to make a speech on “How to Assist the Down and Out.” But in a few minutes, a street person or an illegal immigrant or a person of different skin color or religion came by, saw the man and had compassion on him. And this person went way beyond the first mile of duty to the second mile of compassionate service.
The real point of this well-known parable is not who is my neighbor, which is anybody in need, but how I should embody being a neighbor. Here are a few suggestions.
First, a true neighbor knows no boundaries! A white school teacher in a large city shared that she taught a class of 85 percent black and 15 percent white children. She loved then all equally and dearly.
Recently, one black child said to her, “I saw your husband today.”
“You did?” the teacher responded.
“Yes,” replied the little girl. “And he was white!”
You see, that pupil knew so well that she was loved by the teacher, that she had never thought of her in terms of color different from her own. Consequently, she was surprised that her teacher’s husband was white.
Note that in the parable the victim by the side of the road is never identified. He is only a “man,” which means anyone at all – male, female, friend, foe, anyone. Underline it, if you will. The man by the side of the road represents anyone in need.
Max Muller, one-time professor of modern languages at Oxford, has written that to the Greeks, every foreigner was a “barbarian;” to the Jews, every stranger was a “Gentile dog;” and to the Mohammedan, every alien was an “infidel.” Then Jesus came, and erased these scornful titles from the dictionaries of humankind, and wrote in their stead “brother” and “sister.”
Today, our fractured, violent and mistrusting world is literally begging for good neighbors, for people who care.
Second, a true neighbor moves beyond generalities!
The hero in our parable moved beyond generalities and actually offered practical assistance. He bound up the victim’s wounds with his own hands and took him to a place of safety.
A few years back, my wife broke her ankle and was sitting on a curb in agonizing pain. A young employee at a nearby fast food restaurant saw her through the window and came out and asked if she could be of assistance. The employee stayed with my wife for some time and wouldn’t leave. In a little while, the restaurant manager came out and said to the employee, “I was looking for you. I wondered where you were.” The employee said, “This woman has fallen. She needs some help.”
Later, that employee went back inside and brought my wife some ice and water. She stayed until help came and assisted her into the automobile. The true neighbor always moves beyond generalities.
Third, a true neighbor gives and gives and keeps on giving! A true neighbor always gives, and let it be emphasized, always has something to give.
The noted Scottish minister, James S. Stewart, told of a lighthouse keeper whose days were spent on an isolated reef in the sea. Someone asked him one day, “Do you not feel like a prisoner way out here?” Swift as a flash, came the answer, “Not since I saved my first man.”
But so many of us prefer a “quick fix” if you please. We want to do something for others, but we want to do it quickly. We can be nice for a while. We can commit for a few days. We tend to forget that most of God’s work, however, is complex and usually takes time.
Take a closer look at Jesus. He kept on giving and giving until he finally gave all at Calvary.
A tragic event took place way back in 1972; a terrible earthquake struck near Managua, Nicaragua. Immediately following the disaster, two dramatically different responses were made. One was made by an incredibly wealthy man, Howard Hughes, who left his hotel in Managua, picked his way through the rubble to his private plane and flew out to a luxury hotel in Europe.
Another man, Roberto Clemente, beloved superstar right fielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates, chartered some cargo planes and began flying into the devastated area with medicine and emergency food supplies. On one of those trips, Clemente died when the plane he was on went down in an accident in the open sea.
The question before us regarding compassion is simple: Are we flying out or are we flying in? For the world’s sake I pray we are flying in.