What it means to be a good neighbor

Published 5:23 pm Monday, July 23, 2018

You know the story. I once saw it mimed by a youth group in a worship service. The wounded person was stretched out on the floor in the chancel area. A figure representing the priest came up, took a look and turned his back. Next, another figure representing the Levite came up, took a look and turned his back.

At this point in the worship service, all of us present confessed our sins of omission and commission in unison and received absolution (forgiveness).

Then, it was that the Samaritan came up, took a look, knelt down, put his arms around the wounded person and together they walked away. Immediately, we had altar prayers and renewed our commitment to God and the ways of compassion.

In describing the Samaritan, Jesus said, “And when he saw him, the wounded man, he had compassion and went to him (Luke 10:33,34).” Thus, the real point of this parable is not who is my neighbor, which is anybody in need, but how should I embody being a neighbor, living under the purposes of God.

First, a true neighbor knows no boundaries! It is a mark of Jesus’ skill as a storyteller that he never identifies the wounded man by the side of the road.

He is only a “man” which means anybody at all (male, female, foe, victim, anyone). As I mentioned, the man by the side of the road represents “anyone” in need.

The Samaritan simply enters into the wounded man’s situation. He had compassion on him. And, of course, compassion means “to suffer with.” It means to suffer alongside, to enter fully into the circumstances of the other, sharing whatever comes.

Max Mueller has written that to the Greek, every foreigner was a “barbarian;” to the Jew, 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 there instead “brothers and sisters.”

In our culture today, having compassion means entering into the situation of the “other.” Writing in his book, “On the Brink Of Everything,” Parker J. Palmer, founder and senior partner emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal and noted author, states that “The renewal this nation  needs will not come from people who are afraid of “otherness” in race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation. Because of that fear, our once-vital society is gridlocked and stagnant, if not actively regressing.” A true neighbor knows no boundaries.

Second, a true neighbor moves beyond generalities. The hero in our story moved beyond generalities and actually offered practical assistance. He bandaged the victim’s wounds with his own hands and took him to a place of safety.

In the movie, “Pay it Forward” a young boy came up with a big, audacious goal to change the world. His idea was to have every person influence three other people by an act of specific service and kindness. The three persons who received help would then “pay it forward” by specifically influencing three other people.

The late Dr. Howard Hendricks, longtime professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, said that when he was in elementary school in Philadelphia, he was one of five boys his fifth-grade teacher predicted would end up in jail.  Three of them did, but Hendricks was rescued by his sixth-grade teacher who saw his potential. She said, “I’ve heard a lot about you, but don’t believe a word of it.”

People are always looking for someone to say, “I believe in you.” In Hendricks’ case, he took it to heart and began passing along the same belief in his students. A few of his students include some of the biggest names in evangelical Christianitt — Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll and David Jeremiah.

But it all goes back to that sixth grade teacher who specifically said to Hendricks, “I believe in you.” A true neighbor moves beyond generalities.

And third, a true neighbor serves and serves and keeps on serving. A true neighbor always serves (and let it be emphasized) always has a service to render.

The Samaritan took the wounded man to the inn. He paid the innkeeper to look after him for as long as it took to get the man back on his feet.

So many of us, however, prefer a quick fix. We want to do something for others, but we want to do it quickly. We can commit for a few days. But human struggles often come with the long haul. We tend to forget that most of God’s work is complex and usually takes a while.

Take a closer look at Jesus. He kept serving and serving and serving until he finally served his all at Calvary.

Some years ago Albert Schweitzer, speaking to a graduating class in an English school, said, “I do not know what your destiny will be. Some of you will probably occupy remarkable positions. But I do know one thing. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve Christ. And serving Christ always means loving and assisting others.”

I reiterate, the real point here is not who is my neighbor, which is anybody in need, but how should I embody being a neighbor, living under the purposes of God.