This essay comes from my weekly column in the First Congregational Church of Salem, New Hampshire weekly eNews.
Just a quick word of warning right at the outset, this might be a little longer; in fact, I know it is going to be longer, then these columns usually are. I have taken a few weeks off from writing, and I need to catch up. Well, that is only part of the story; there is a lot to say about this topic of “who is my neighbor?”
The backdrop for this is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as found in Luke 10:25-37. You might wish to pause here, grab your bible, and read it first. We all know the story. A man gets beaten by robbers on the road to Jericho. Several people pass by; the traveler, the priest, the Levite, and finally the Samaritan. Each of them has their reasons for not stopping, and we can address that at another time, but for today, I want to focus on the discussion that takes place after Jesus tells the story.
Jesus was asked by a Scribe, an expert in the law, what he was to do to enter eternal life? Jesus answers him with, love God and love neighbor. And the Scribe follows up with, “Who is my neighbor?” Now usually in scripture when the Scribes or other teachers of the law ask Jesus a question, it is to trap him, but I believe that this Scribe was being honest and genuinely seeking an answer.
Although Jesus does not come right out and say it, our neighbor is anyone that is in need. Because of the Jewish law, a Jew was only to help another Jew, but Jesus was standing that on its head, this is why Jesus was considered a radical. He was telling the Scribe that anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from or what they believe, they are our neighbor and if they are in need, we are to help them.
Jesus is quite specific about what he means by help:
1. We must help even if the person, who is our neighbor, brought the trouble on himself. It should not matter how they got into the position they are in, they are in trouble, and they need help, so we help them.
2. As I have already mentioned, anyone from anywhere who is in need is our neighbor. Our help must be as wide as the love of God.
3. The help must be practical and not consist merely in feeling sorry. Thoughts and prayer might be well-intentioned, but if the guy is hungry, he needs food first. After we feed him, we can pray for him. No doubt the priest and the Levite, and maybe even the traveler from the story felt sorry for the man as they passed him by on the road, but they did nothing. Compassion, to be real, must issue in deeds.
There has been a lot of talk, and that is what it is talk, in the news recently about helping those in need on the border. It should not matter how they got here or what their status is. Yes, that is a question for discussion but first, let’s take care of the humanitarian crisis with those in need and discuss the philosophical issues latter.
At the end of the parable, Jesus tells the Scribe to “Go, and do likewise.” He was referring to the compassion that the Samaritan had on the wounded man. And so I say to all of you, Go, and do likewise. Maybe you cannot go to the border, but one tangible thing you can do is to remember that they are human beings and they need our help.