I don't know my neighbors, at least not in the sense that I think of "neighbors" and neighborhood from my childhood. We would play outside all day all summer, and the whole neighborhood was our playground. The village reared its children, and the most dreaded phrase adult neighbors might evoke to pull us into line was, "Do I need to call your mother?" Yes, I now live in a very different setting, an apartment complex in Atlanta, but I gather that the whole country, even rural and suburban, has changed drastically. Play date? What's that? The neighborhood was our perennial play date!
Not anymore. I know the first names only of the next-door neighbors who share a stairwell with us-a single mom with two very polite children. Wendy knows the first names of another couple downstairs, the ones whom I greet every Sunday morning early as they depart the same time I do to go sing in their church choir. I know that the college students who live on the other side of us like to play their Guitar Hero video game extremely loudly on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m. Other than that, I know nothing about anyone. My neighborhood is, sadly, basically a place to hole up and sleep. Practically speaking, Facebook friends are more my neighborhood than any proximity or geography.
In this Sunday's Gospel reading, we hear the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer has rightly responded to Jesus' question that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (our memory verse from VBS!) AND "love your neighbor as yourself." "But who is my neighbor?" the lawyer persists. Jesus, who hardly ever answers a question directly, tells a story. He has just gone through Samaria, where they did not accept him, yet he makes the hero in his story a Samaritan.
We're supposed to be like the Samaritan, clear as can be, right? Your neighbor is anyone who needs you, regardless of race, religion, stature, etc., right? Well, of course! But...Jesus' question at the end spins the whole thing around. It assumes our identifying with the beaten man! "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
Though we've just celebrated our nation's independence and the rugged individualism and resultant democracy for which so many have sacrificed, ironically this parable's conclusion is about our realizing how dependent we are on each other. As our forebears knew and needed to know, yes, I'll be there to rebuild your barn when it burns down, to harvest your wheat when it comes in, to prepare food and care for your children when illness or death strike, but part of the reason I am committed to this is that I know that I am not immune to misfortune and tragedy. I could, through no fault of my own, end up in a ditch. The time will come when I need a neighbor, so I need to be one for you! It may sound selfish, but then again, so does "love your neighbor as you love yourself." When all is said and done, complete independence is a delusion. Made for relationships, we need each other. We need neighbors!
Prayer: Help me, gracious God, to know my deep need. Thank you for all the neighbors you have sent thus far to help and even rescue me along the way. Help me to be that kind of neighbor, too, that we might preserve this most precious gift of community you entrust to us. Amen.