I can remember the moment I learned what the word neighbor meant. We had just moved to Evansville and across the road from us lived a wonderful lady, Miss Seifert. Ms. Seifert taught Botany at, what was then ISUE, now USI. I loved going to Ms. Seifert’s house. She always had cats, flowers and more important, had time to answer all the questions I had about the different butterflies in her many gardens. One day, when I asked my mom if I could go visit with Ms. Seifert, she said, “You really are enjoying our new neighbor, aren’t you?” I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked if it was a type of friend. She said, yes, a neighbor could be a friend, but a neighbor was someone who lived close to you.
I loved watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood growing up. Of course, by then, I had the whole neighbor thing figured out. I loved all the special guests and when he would tour factories to show how things like crayons or graham crackers were made. Every time he sang, “Would you be mine, could you be mine. Won’t you be my neighbor?”, I would answer, “YES!”
After he passed away, I remember reading a story a woman told of meeting him. She was from the United States but was studying abroad. She didn’t know anyone, and the language barrier was making things even harder on her. She said she felt so lonely until one day, walking down the street, she heard a familiar voice. Coming toward her, surrounded by children and adults of all ages, was Fred Rogers. When each new person joined the group, he would greet them by saying, “Hello, neighbor.” Each new person greeted him back the same way. When he got to her and said “Hello, neighbor”, for some reason, the whole crowd repeated it to her before she had time to respond. She said that was the turning point in her stay. Suddenly, they were all neighbors and she didn’t feel lonely anymore.
These memories came to mind this morning when I was reading the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10. Most of us know the story of the man that was beaten and robbed and left to die by the side of the road. First a priest, then a Levite, passed him by, but a Samaritan traveler not only stopped and cared for the man, but took the man to an inn and paid the owner to care for him further. But the part that stood out to me was what happens right before and after this story.
Before: There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
After: Jesus asked, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What I found so interesting is, that even after Jesus told him this parable, the scholar doesn’t acknowledge by name who the neighbor is. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. But, being an expert in Mosaic law, he would have known that both the priest and the Levite were to “exemplify” being neighbor to those in need.
And so, with all that is happening around us, with the corona virus and hoarding and price gouging of products, it made me stop and think: Who is my neighbor? What am I doing to help my neighbor in this time of need?
I went to the grocery store today and yes, there were less items on the shelf. But I still filled my cart with groceries enough to feed a third world country for weeks. So, why are people reacting this way? We all had plenty…the stores had plenty, and we will continue to have plenty. So, why this reaction?
Who is my neighbor?
God…make me mindful that all mankind is my neighbor…not just during a corona virus outbreak…but every day. Remind us of those who are truly suffering and show us ways to help ease their burden, whether they live next door or around the world. Amen.