By Rev. Joan Kessler
Luke 10: 25-37
Today’s short reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Good Neighbour as I have been calling it lately was more difficult to put together than I anticipated. It is so familiar. What if anything new can be said of it?
It is easy to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, because we can read it so literally, we think it makes perfect sense and it leaves us feeling good. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be generous to another in need. It is a beautiful example to follow and it is a model held up as moral and desired standard that underpins not only Christianity, but other traditions and secular movements as well. But in Jesus’ parables, there is always a challenge. Jesus never makes the point easy or self-evident. The parable is always reflected back to the person Jesus is telling it to and to determine the answer to their good question for themselves.
There is nothing wrong with reading the Good Samaritan parable as a go and do likewise story. But where is the challenge in this moment? What is it this story is trying to afflict upon us? Asking the question “Who is my neighbour?” is not a particularly arduous task. We consider the answer by our geographical location. Our neighbourhoods are defined by a local proximity, and we could probably say a few words about who lives within its boundaries. But Jesus in this parable expands the definition of neighbour in a way I had not noticed before. In the version we heard Louise read moments ago, Jesus turns back the question of who proved to be neighbour to the robbed and beaten man. Jesus didn’t say which of these three was “a” neighbour?” or “Which of these three would have been “the” neighbour to this man?” What I had never noticed before that Jesus leaves out the article of “a” and “the”. When we read it as it was told, Jesus asks, “…who of these three proved neighbour …?” Jesus ties together the story by making neighbour into a verb rather than a noun.
You might be all rolling your eyes at me at this point, but what a difference an article makes! Neighbour becomes a verb. Jesus places the focus on the quality of relationship not the status or physical proximity to the individual being helped. Jesus’ definition of neighbour is expanded and so too is the neighbourhood. So let us think of this for a moment. Who is our neighbour in an ecosystem, a brilliantly inter-connected, life-giving and sustaining system of life? How would we prove neighbour to our planet Earth?
Our outdoor service is the perfect time to ask this good question. We have clean air to breath, fresh water to drink, green grass to walk upon and beautiful creatures that make their home in the creek that runs right alongside our property and further down in Wood Lake. We are neighbours to one another. And we are called to show mercy and compassion to those well beyond the familiar and the known, those whom we recognize to be our “own kind.” We are neighbours to all species who inhabit this wonderful sanctuary we call creation.
I heard an interesting quote this past week shared in a Margaret Wheatley book – “someone once said that if humans became extinct, the only thing that would not flourish would be pets and houseplants”. This quote makes me go hmmm; evolutionary processes continue right under our privileged noses. Competition for survival can seemingly make the planet a violent and volatile place. Survival of the fittest and natural selection see the strongest rise to the top. Countless species exist on the precarious brink of extinction, yet there is this benign friendliness to the natural order of things.
I read an article this week that illuminated the reality that an ecosystem is not just a container or a neighbourhood for any particular single species. Life is not separate from its habitat. Survival happens when species work together. Mutation happens that allows species to adapt to their environment and flourish and evolution progresses ever forward when selection processes relax. Mathematical biologist, Martin Nowak, calls this the “snuggle for survival”. This adaptation, the processes of change, are at work all around us, like resurrection moments where we die to things that no longer work to be evolved into things that can survive and life carries onward.
But I bring us back to the local, on the ground level. Reflecting on the parable of the good neighbour I could not help but think of our Community Fridge as an example of the point of Jesus’ story. Feeding the Fridge is ongoing work. It connects us to others in our neighbourhood and has brought us closer to the struggles and given a face to food insecurity. You only have to go and visit the Fridge and read the thank you notes that are tacked to its door to know the benefit this initiative has brought our community. Insecurity is growing, I fear, with the rising price of everything and I would humbly ask you remember the Fridge this summer in your grocery shopping. Pick up an extra carton of milk, a dozen eggs, a tub of yogurt or jar of peanut butter. Small acts of solidarity, identifying with another person’s need creates mutual aid. I have a can of beans to share with someone who needs a can of beans. The possibilities are endless.
This parable is so much more than a go and do likewise message. It is a story of becoming God’s love in the world. There is not one single prescription for becoming this presence that responds and takes risks and brings restoration and wholeness to another in need. Jesus leaves it up to the lawyer as to how he will respond, and we are left with the same charge to go and do likewise. We often spend a lot of time and reflection on the three passersby and celebrate the Samaritan, who responded and acted and was the one from whom the least was expected. But what about putting ourselves in the shoes of the man who was robbed and beaten. Did it matter to him where the help came from? I think not.
Who is my neighbour, the lawyer asks? The neighbour, Jesus says, is the one who looks beyond the familiar and physical proximity of belonging. The neighbour does the unpopular thing, gives all he or she has for the benefit of another. The neighbour makes personal sacrifices to help someone else. But these are my interpretations. Jesus always left the meaning of his parables open-ended for the listener to decide and discover for themselves what to do and how to be.
May we go and do likewise this day and always. Amen.