My Neighbor

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

Like many in my age group, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood on PBS. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor who became a television icon with a show which he began in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The show featured puppets along with actors portraying various public servants you would encounter in your neighborhood. He even had famous guest celebrities who made occasional visits. Through this show, Rogers explored feelings children may have, difficult experiences a child may encounter and how to respond, and of course, who is our neighbor.

Jesus encounters a teacher of the Law who asks a question that leads to a second question Mr. Rogers could easily have answered. The man first seeks to find out how to obtain eternal life. Loving God and loving neighbor is the answer which Jesus coaxes out of this teacher of Law and Jesus affirms this answer. But then the man wants to know who this neighbor he is to love might be. Jesus responds by telling the story of a man who is beaten, robbed, and left beside a road. Two Jewish leaders, a priest and a Levite, see the man but refuse to offer help. A Samaritan man, whose ethnicity  makes him an enemy of Jews, stops and provides care for the man to the point of taking him to an inn. He even pays all costs related to his recovery. A definition of neighbor is provided followed by Jesus saying the teacher should live according to the Samaritan’s example.

For many reasons, our understanding of “neighbor” has been altered. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town. Our neighbors were the ones whore houses surrounded my own but also the approximately 850 other inhabitants of the town.  Everyone knew everyone and in times of need the whole town and surrounding farm families jumped into action. My definition of neighbor was broad even though my community was pretty homogeneous.

Today, we live in a global society. Modern transportation and the internet has greatly reduced the perceived size of our world. Yet, there seems to be a shrinking definition of the word neighbor. There are people who do not even know the names of the individuals living in the houses adjacent to their own. We have isolated ourselves for a couple of reasons. First, we isolate for safety since fear is continuously reinforced by frightening crime reports. The second reason is we perceive we do not have time to get to know our neighbor. Yet if we cannot even get to know the people living next to us and love them, how can we ever love our neighbor in the broader sense which Jesus parable implies.

We need to follow the wisdom which Mr. Rogers shared with us. A wisdom which is surely based on the lesson taught to the teacher of the Law and us by Jesus. We need to take the time to get to know others and show love by taking care of them when needed.

Feed the Birds

One of my favorite songs from the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, is the song Mary sings to Michael Banks entitled, Feed the Birds. Mary is trying to communicate with Michael about the importance of taking care of others with the resources he has been given. In this song, Mary tells of a lady who is on the steps of St Paul’s who calls to people to purchase bags of seed to feed the birds. Michael has a few tuppences which his dad, a banker, is trying to convince him to place in a bank account. Mary gives an alternative option for at least some of Michael’s tuppence.

The main story line in the movie is about relationships. If you have read any of my other blog posts previously, you know that I often impress upon others the importance of relationships. I believe that the whole of Scripture is about relationships. All of Jesus’ ministry was about relationships. Maybe this is why the melodic song which Mary Poppins sings resonates so strongly with me. This song speaks of relationships and the importance of using what we have for the well-being of others.

Some of you are aware that I enjoy having many bird feeders in my backyard. It brings me pleasure to see the various types of birds who come by throughout the day to eat some of the seed which I place in the feeders. I also have hummingbird feeders which contain sugar water which I change every few days. It thrills me immensely when I get to see a hummingbird come and spend time at one of my two feeders. Every time that I fill those feeders I am reminded of the passage of Scripture where Jesus is telling his disciples not to worry about so many things. (See Matthew 6:25-34) He reminds them that the birds of the air do not labor for food and yet God feeds them. When I watch the birds eat from my feeders, I believe I am one of the ways in which God feeds the birds of the air.

This concept also translates well in regard to caring for other people. I think Mary Poppins was wanting to make this point also with Michael and his sister, who was listening in. A major theme throughout Scripture is the Lord’s desire for us to care for one another, especially those who struggle to care for themselves due to society, health, or other circumstances. We are called to care for the orphans, widows, hungry, sick, poor, outsider, and aliens. Jesus tells us that when we care for others, we are caring for him. (See Matthew 25:34-40). Mary’s song might easily be entitled, Feed the Others.

In the movie, Michael Banks takes the words of Mary Poppins to heart. May we all listen to her song and not only feed the birds but care for one another as well.