Who are your neighbors? Think about people who live around you. Imagine their faces, say their names. How well do you know them? Who is your neighbor?
There are many other kinds of neighbors. Some people are unexpected neighbors. Some people are neighbors that you didn’t realize are neighbors. Some are neighbors, and you know they are neighbors, but you’ve been avoiding them, overlooking them. Some are hidden neighbors who, once you realize they are there, you are pleasantly surprised.
What passage in the Bible famously talks about neighbors? Jesus once told a story about the surprising people who are neighbors among us. We call Jesus’ story that parable of the Good Samaritan. Turn to Luke 10:25-37.
Who did Jesus reveal as a surprise neighbor? Read the story, and then return to this post.
The parable is very straightforward. The people in Jesus’ day knew exactly what he was saying, and many of them were squirming and extremely uncomfortable when they heard this parable. You and I tend to think of the Good Samaritan as a person who pays for groceries for the single mom in the checkout line in front of them. We’re not wrong. But to the ears of the people in the crowd that day, what Jesus was saying was in your face. What I mean is that Jesus’ parable was a confrontation, a direct blow to the prevailing culture and mindset of the people around him. And not just to the religious leaders who were so often his target. This story would have been difficult to hear for any person in the crowd that day, including his own disciples. Why?
Because the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. It was a hatred that went way way back, for generations. But they didn’t just keep the hatred, as if it was just a disgust in their hearts and minds; they also acted on their hate. They committed atrocities against one another. Why? The origin story of their hatred is long and complex, but it boils down to ethnic prejudice. Interestingly, the two ethnicities were related, but different enough that they allowed hatred to grow in their hearts. They also had some theological differences that they gave precedence to, over love. The story of the Good Samaritan addresses the inherent sin in that the people of both cultures had allowed to infect them, the sin of prejudice. The neighbor, Jesus, says, had been right there all along, but both people groups had allowed centuries of bitterness to keep them from God’s heart of love. They had separated, and thus, Jesus sought to give them a vision of love that crosses ethnic and theological boundaries.
Where this parable hits home is when people from other countries or ethnicities move into our neighborhoods. That is precisely the situation here in Lancaster County for the last few decades.
I taught Junior Achievement in my daughter’s 5th grade class a few years ago. I’m talking about Smoketown Elementary, in the Conestoga Valley School District. As with nearly all my blog posts, I first preach them as sermons at Faith Church. When I preached this one, I asked people to raise their hands if they graduated from Conestoga Valley. We’re a community-focused church, so it was no surprise that many of the adults have lived in CV nearly their entire lives. A bunch of hands shot up. I asked them to consider how many people were in their graduating classes, and then how many of the class were people of color. I called on one person who said that in the 1980s, his class had about 330 people and 2 were persons of color.
Fast-forward to the 2010s. My two oldest graduated in 2015 and 2017. Look at their yearbooks, and you see the United Nations. When I taught Junior Acheivement in my daughter’s 5th grade class a few years ago, every continent on the planet wasre represented, just by the heritages of her classmates! Every single continent! Fine, not Antarctica, but that doesn’t count. Guess how many languages are spoken in Smoketown Elementary. 30. Do you know what this means?
The world has moved into our neighborhood. At our local social services agency, Conestoga Valley Christian Community Service, a significant number of their clientele are refugees. People from all over the world, fleeing persecution for ethnic, religious, and political reasons, are being resettled in Lancaster. I praise God for this.
I studied cross-cultural ministry in college, and my wife Michelle and I were missionaries in Kingston, Jamaica for a year. It is a massively costly enterprise to send westerners to live in another country and culture. I still support it, and I think we are right to pursue it. I am elated that Faith Church has sent missionaries from our own congregation to Kenya, and that we support western missionaries now working in many places around the world. They need our support, financially, spiritually, and relationally, as they serve the mission of Christ’s Kingdom.
But know this, the world has come to us.
In the next post, we’ll return to the parable, trying to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”