One day, long ago, there were a few “experts” gathered around. There was a teacher among them, and they questioned him with such questions as “Who is my neighbor?”
It was a great question, which could also be understood in a way to define boundaries or define the extent to which one needs be concerned about others. “Who is my neighbor?” is really no different than asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” For many folk, that’s really the question we want answered. Yet Jesus, the teacher being questioned, does more than answer the question. He does what we like to call today as “reframing the conversation.”
He proceeded to share the story of a certain person who was robbed, beaten and left for dead. Overlooked by those passing by, one person finally stopped to help. He bandaged the wounds, put him on his animal, took him to an inn and took care of him. He ensured that the inn keeper extended his care to include the man who had been robbed, injured and left for dead.
We have heard the story many times, and we have come to know it as the tale of the “Good Samaritan.” We like the story, and we often find ourselves inspired and challenged by it; for it leads us to ask how we care for our neighbor, and how we define who our neighbor is in our culture, time and community.
Yet, if you listen a bit more closely, there is something scandalous about the story. You see, Jesus uses the Samaritan as the example. Samaritans were, of course, not revered by the “in-crowd” of the day. The religious folk had pushed them away — to the edges of the community. In fact, the Jewish leaders of the time taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the Samaritans. Yet, here is Jesus using them to teach a lesson, not to mention talking with the Samaritan woman at the well — but that is a story for another time. Scandalous indeed!
Ah well, back to the question at hand. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus reframes the conversation for us. And when he is done, we cannot help but realize the question is more about who teaches us to be a neighbor. And the scandalous premise that Jesus offers is this: If you want an example of how to be a good neighbor, then learn from the example of those on the edges of the community. Observe those you have perhaps been told not to have contact with.
Everyone has a different “group” with which they avoid associating. If we listen closely to the lesson Jesus teaches using the Samaritan, the moral about being a neighbor is seen in the compassion of a person in a group we don’t like. Who is that group, and unexpected example, for you?