THE REAL NEIGHBOUR
“Who is my neighbour?” That is, who counts, whom am I responsible for, who falls into the purview of God’s command to care for as a neighbour. Most often, we look out first for our immediate and then extended family, and then close friends, and then those who are most like us or share our values or associations. And, as we’ve already seen, Jesus responds by telling a story that redefines neighbour not in terms of race, religion, or proximity, but in terms of vulnerability; that is, whoever is in need is our neighbour.
Jesus does something different, right at the end. He does not ask who the Samaritan’s neighbour was, rather, he asks, who acted like a neighbour. The answer, of course, is obvious to the lawyer and to us: it is the Samaritan, the one who went out of his way to help another. But do you notice how this changes things? Suddenly the neighbour isn’t simply the one in need, but rather the one who provides for our need, the one who takes care of us. Which raises an interesting – and often uncomfortable – question: who has been our neighbour by caring for us of late?
This is uncomfortable because we spend so much of our time, energy, and money trying to be invulnerable, trying precisely to need as little as possible from those around us. Perhaps it’s a fear of being a burden, or a concern about “owing” others, or that we are just afraid of being vulnerable because if we show our need that need may not be met. Whatever the reason, however, so many of us are absolutely mortified by the idea of showing our deepest needs to others and have a hard time receiving a compliment let alone serious aid or help.
According to Jesus, being a neighbour involves not only giving help but also being willing to receive it, even and especially to and from those we don’t normally see as “like us.” So perhaps the call isn’t only to invite us to imagine those we should be helping, but those who might help us, if we gave them a chance.
The only way we can see ourselves as the Samaritan – the one called to give help and healing to those in need – is first to recognize how often we have been the traveller left for dead. Once we have been encountered by grace and love, it’s hard to look at anything or anyone quite the same.
We are invited to think about what kind of community we want to be. Certainly we are communities who have been formed and nurtured by a shared faith, shared ethnicity and experience, and shared traditions. I believe, we need to be a community that is also bound together by our shared need, by an awareness of our common vulnerability, by a sense that God has worked through so many people to care for us, wants still to meet our needs through others (and sometimes through those we would least expect or want to help us), and also invites us to look around and care for those similarly in need.
Might we see ourselves, that is, as those who, having recognized ourselves as the traveller left for dead in a ditch by the road, can now arise to reach out to others in need. By God’s grace I believe we can.
I AM YOUR NEIGHOUR, BE MY NEIGHOUR.