Monday, July 7, 2008

Who's my neighbor?

Hello to everyone! It has been a long time since I have posted so if you are still out there, I hope all is well. Things have been particularly busy for me lately for a couple of reasons. First, I took a heavy load of classes for my Religious Studies Degree. Second, I have moved forward with a church plant in St. Joseph, Mo. We meet in the Ice House Theater on Sundays at 11:00AM. With that said, I would like to share with you a bit of the message from this past Sunday.

Living in a ever increasing small world, the question 'Who is my neighbor?' takes on an even more interesting dynamic. In a country like the USA, where we consume far more than most when it comes to energy, natural resources, shopping etc., our local actions truly have global implications. For example, our desire for cheap clothes perpetuate problems such as child labor. Or, suburban sprawling, which is rampant in the US creates a high demand for raw materials such as lumber. All of that is a broad stroke of which I would be glad to discuss at another time. The question still remains however; 'Who is my neighbor?'

Traditionally, neighbor meant a fellow member of one's people. A people is a community of solidarity in which everyone bears responsibility for everyone else. In this community each member is sustained by the whole, and so each member is expected to look on every other member "as himself" as a part of the same whole that gives him the space in which to live his life. Does this mean then that foreigners are not neighbors? This would go against scripture, which insisted upon love for foreigners also, mindful of the fact that Israel itself had live a life of a foreigner in Egypt. Generally speaking, only the "sojourner (a temporary resident)" living among the people was reckoned as a member of the community of solidarity and so as a "neighbor." One rabinnic saying ruled that there was no need to regard heretics or apostates as neighbors. Also the Samaritans, who not long before had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem by "strewing dead mens bones" during the Passover festival itself were not neighbors.

Now that the question has been focused in this way and we have established a reliable foundation to work from, we see that Jesus answers the question with a parable of the man on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho who falls among robbers, is stripped of everything, and then is left lying half dead on the roadside.

This is a perfectly realistic story, because such assaults were a regular occurrence on the Jericho road.

A priest and a levite--experts in the Law and salvation, its their vocation! come along, but pass by without stopping. I don't think there is any reason to suppose these 2 guys were cold-hearted uncaring men. Maybe they were afraid and wanted to get to where they were going. Possibly they just didn't know how they could help the man, especially because he looked like he was beyond help. Have you ever met someone like that? Someone so beaten down by life you didn't know where to begin in helping them?

At this point a Samaritan comes along, presumably a merchant who traveled this road frequently and knew the owner of the nearest Inn; a Samaritan, someone who in other words, didn't belong to Israel's community of solidarity and is not obliged to see the assault victim as a 'neighbor', HIS NEIGHBOR.

How do we reconcile this type of thinking in the church today? So many people in our world feel marginalized, unwelcome and mistreated by the so-called 'Samaritans' sitting in our churches. I believe one way to reconcile this is to realize we are all the man in the ditch. We, all of humanity, are beaten, robbed, plundered and left on the road side. The burden of the question begins to make a pertinent shift at this point. The issue is no longer which other person is a neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me "as myself." When we learn to walk in the other persons shoes we in turn begin to realize that their shoes aren't so different from ours. We reconcile the question of 'Who is my neighbor?' by acknowledging also that God, who once seemed so distant to humanity, became our neighbor in His Son Christ.


Beau Walker
Make12 Fellowship
11:00AM Ice House Theater

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