Being A Good Neighbor
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
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’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. The next day he took out two denarii 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.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

- Luke 10:25-37

There is a story about one of the great bishops of the Diocese of New York, William Manning. The story is well known in many church circles. In the early 20th century, Harlem was predominantly White but soon, African Americans and people of Caribbean descent began moving in, and this was not always welcome. The Rector of one of our Episcopal Churches in Harlem welcomed them into his White Church because he believed that these Christians were also part of the Body of Christ. But his Vestry opposed him. This led to a church conflict and the Bishop was notified. The Bishop gave notice to the Vestry that he supported the Rector. The Vestry was not happy about that and opposed the Bishop. The Bishop notified that he would make a parish visitation but the Vestry opposed his coming, even threatening him with a legal suit. Bishop Manning came anyway on a Sunday but the Vestry locked the church to prevent the Bishop, rector and congregation in holding services. When the bishop came, the Vestry members were all in front of the church and when they voiced their opposition, he excommunicated them one by one. He asked for the keys of the church and they wouldn’t give it to him and the story goes that he brought with him a sledgehammer and knocked down the gates of the church and proceeded to conduct Sunday service, integrating both white and black members into the church.

In today’s Gospel reading, we are told that someone- presumably a Jewish man like Jesus- asked him “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by saying that to be an heir of God’s Kingdom, one must love one’s neighbor. And the man asked Jesus to define the term “neighbor.” “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then proceeded to tell a story of a man who was robbed and left for dead. Two religious leaders saw the man lying on the road but ignored him. But it was a Samaritan who rescued the poor guy. The Samaritans and Jews despised each other for religious and racial reasons.  Israel once was a unified kingdom but then a civil conflict ensued and Israel was divided into northern and southern kingdoms. Samaritans were part of the northern kingdom and retained their place of worship in the north, while the Jews were part of the southern kingdom and retained their place of worship in Jerusalem. Jews and Samaritans were once one nation; they were, so to speak, brothers and sisters who ended up fighting one another. When the northern kingdom was destroyed by a foreign power, the Samaritans intermarried with the foreigners. The Jews then began to consider the Samaritans an impure race because of this intermarriage.

So when Jesus told this story, it must have provoked quite a stir among his Jewish audience. First, Jesus made a Samaritan- someone despised by Jews- to be the main protagonist of the story. It was shocking that a Jew like Jesus would present an enemy to be the star of the show, so to speak. Equally shocking was Jesus’ negative presentation of his religious leaders- the priest and the Levite. One would think that religious leaders should be merciful and compassionate to a man in need, but these leaders left the man for dead. Instead, it was the despised Samaritan who showed mercy.

So how does that apply to us?  If we want to be an heir of God’s Kingdom, then we must be ready to show mercy and compassion to people who we would rather not deal with, people we want to avoid or despise because they are of a different skin color, race or culture or ethnicity or even religion. We must become a neighbor not only to those we like to associate with, but we must also be merciful and compassionate to those we are not naturally drawn to.

© 2016 Noel E. Bordador

Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

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