And Who Is My Neighbor?

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 11 July 2010

(Deuteronomy 30:9-14   Psalm 25   Colossians 1:1-14   Luke 10:25-37)

“And Who Is My Neighbor?”

Most of us can remember images of the planes flying into the twin towers.  Many of us can still picture the man standing on top of his two-story home as water laps at the roof only inches from his feet days after Katrina.  Many of us can see pictures of the families trying to connect with each other in the midst of the rubble in Haiti.  The images of the oil-covered birds are bad enough, but the voices of the fishermen from the Gulf whose jobs have totally collapsed are gut-wrenching.   And I still am unsure if migrants are illegals or if they are God’s ambassadors!

So, who is my neighbor?”

The question gets harder to answer each time we read a new headline, each time we read the results of the newest study on poverty, or on prisoner rehabilitation, or on the homeless, and the list goes on!

And each time there is a new tragedy and a new disaster, overwhelmingly generous gestures of compassion worldwide, hours of volunteer work, and donations of money increase drastically.

Yet, the work of being a good neighbor is really complicated.  And I would argue that since 9/11, the demands of Christian discipleship and our understanding of “who is my neighbor?” have changed forever!

For many of us, “neighborliness” entails feeling for another’s plight and being charitable by offering resources for relief efforts, such as time, money and blood.  Like the Samaritan on the road to Jericho, we stop and help the person beaten and left for dead in their time of dire need.

But I don’t think we really get it!  I don’t think most of us (myself included!) even begin to understand the level of subversiveness this “Good Samaritan” parable tries to disturb within us!  I really do question if any one of us has a full enough sense of Samaritanism and compassion to meet the needs of our local and global, racialized world.  We live in a world where the person in the ditch is more than one random individual.  Rather, the person (and it is no accident that we know almost nothing about him, not ever his name!), rather, this person is representative of complex social inequities in which the ditch gets bigger and the relief seems more like a Band-Aid, not a solution.  As if pulling someone out of a literal or metaphorical ditch is not difficult enough, especially someone we have been taught to despise.

We need pity, we need compassion, and we need neighborliness, all which involve a complete engineering overhaul of the road.  We need a rethinking as to why the robbers are even  allowed to be on the road, why the ditch is there, and who, if anyone, has emotional ties to either the robbers or the ditch and what else can be created in its place.

The question, “Who is my neighbor?” is really many questions!

How can we create a sense of neighborliness that has what it takes to deal with the local and global challenges to “authentic sustained Samaritanism,” to deal with the barriers that include individualism, consumerism and white male privilege?

If this parable provides an answer, it begins by arguing against any easy fix.  The parable  argues in favor of a life-time, engineering project.  It argues in favor of passion and commitment, moving us to a new awareness of just how much roadwork needs to be done.

I think of a real simple story that for me, highlights the very heart of this work.

Several years ago I planned a visit to my see my three-year-old godchild.  It was a Sunday afternoon and I drove to Baltimore to visit him.  It was a day similar to the kind of days we’ve been having these past couples of weeks, and so I was wearing white shorts and a white shirt, and it was hot.  When I arrived at the house, he was playing in a sandbox, and as soon as he saw me he jumped out of the sandbox and came running toward me so I could lift him up into my arms.  And if you know anything about three-year-olds and sandboxes, I’m sure you can picture this little boy covered with sand from head to toe.

So as he comes running toward me my first thought is, “if he hugs me I am going to get covered with sand and dirt before I even get inside the house.”  I remembered my own mother telling me, when I was his age, never to touch anything or anyone when I was covered with sand and dirt.   But I also knew, he would not understand my hesitation and that he could surely interpret it as rejection, or that I wasn’t excited to see him.

For me, that day as I saw my godchild run toward me, I realized that when it comes to loving and compassion, and when it comes to the awareness of what another person needs, and when it comes to recognizing vulnerability in others, that it is always most important to embrace with passion, even when it means getting covered with dirt.

Thanks be to God that we are called to hug the godchild covered with sand and dirt.

Thanks be to God we are called to embrace the child and grandchild wet with water and mud!

Thanks be to God we are called to hold close the poor and the rich, those who smell fresh and those who smell stale, the old, the young, the priest, the Levite, the person in the ditch and the Samaritans far and near, whatever face they wear.

Thanks be to God we are called to fix the road, remove the ditch, and clear out the robbers!

Thanks be to God that we are called to be God’s compassionate love along every road we travel.

Thanks be to God that we are called to be “neighbor” around the town square, around the font and around the table of Holy Communion.

Thanks be to God that as we live more freely into all of these callings, the healing love of Jesus Christ becomes nothing less than the Samaritan story of our lives.  Amen.

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