Being a Neighbour: So Simple, So Hard

Jessie Crabtree is reading from Who Is My Neighbor By Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. We had permission from Flyaway Books to read it during our livestreamed worship.

I belong to a Buy Nothing group on Facebook, my area is Eastern Passage, Shearwater and Cole Harbour and I can’t belong to a group that exists outside of my own neighbourhood. From the website: The Buy Nothing Project was founded in 2013 with the mission to build community by connecting people through hyperlocal gifting, and reducing our impact on the environment. The Buy Nothing Project is the world’s biggest gift economy, being used in communities around the world, allowing neighbors to share freely with one another. What is a gift economy? It means everything shared on Buy Nothing is given freely, no money, no barter, no strings. Free.

On Buy Nothing, you can post three things:

GIFTS of items or services that others can use

ASKS for things you could use

GRATITUDES to show appreciation and thanks

I have given away things that are still useful and I have received things from others. Covid has impacted the ‘neighbourlyness’ of the interactions, with most of them being contactless porch pickups, but you get the idea. Neighbours helping neighbours.

We have been exploring the theme of Who is My Neighbour and Who are the People in Our Neighbourhood this Lent. The series grew out of the gospel reading for this week where Jesus is asked that very question. Let’s listen as the story unfold in Luke 10: 25-37:

25 A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” 26 Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” 27 The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” 28 “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.”  29 But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. 31 It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side. 32 In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. 34 He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’” 36 And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” 37 The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “Go, then, and do the same.”

Most of us are so accustomed to this story that we scarcely hear it for the radical story that it was and is. As Debie Thomas writes in Journey With Jesus: By the time Jesus told this story, the enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans was ancient, entrenched, and bitter. The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered: how to honor God, how to interpret the Scriptures, and where to worship.  They practiced their faith in separate temples, read different versions of the Torah, and avoided social contact with each other whenever possible. Truth be told, they hated each other’s guts. Though we’re inclined to love the Good Samaritan, Jesus’s choice to make him the hero of his story was nothing less than shocking to first century ears.

Debie Thomas goes on to ask the question, where do you locate yourself in the story? Are you the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan? I don’t ask that question to make anyone feel guilty. But it’s likely that we’re going to identify most closely with the Samaritan. Or at least we strive to be that person.  

While we are not likely to encounter someone laying bleeding and wounded on the road, those of us who live and/or work in this neighbourhood certainly encounter people who have no place to call home, or not enough food, or are choosing between food and rent or medication. And yet, we routinely pass on by.

If you think that’s not the case, listen to this story:

A woman was living on social assistance and the ceiling in her apartment fell in because the neighbour upstairs fell asleep while the bath was running and the water overflowed into her apartment and she had to leave it and had nowhere to stay for the night. The woman had her daughter with her and her granddaughter were visiting from another city. The woman had to be out of her apartment for at least two nights and they had nowhere to stay. She called the tenancy board, but after pressing 1 for this and 2 for something else and on hold for what seemed like hours, was told that unless her lease said that her landlord had to put her up in a hotel, and of course it did not, they couldn’t help her. The woman called the local women’s shelter, their voice mailbox was full. The woman, even though she was atheist, because she had been hurt and marginalized by religion, in desperation called a church. Initially it seemed like she was going to get help, the minister was calm and understanding, for they too had been at their wits end financially at times in their life. But as arrangements got complicated and the minister was required to leave their credit card on file at a local motel to guarantee that all charges and damages would be covered, the minister became fearful and suspicious and regretfully said they could not help.

And so there was no mercy… And there was no kindness… And there was no neighbourlyness. 

If this story had been rewritten as a modern parable, the women would have received help. But she did not. Unlike the Samaritan, who said, ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’” The minister’s fear of financial loss was too great.

So, who is the Samaritan in today’s world?

Two examples came to mind, one in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine where the Ukrainian people gave captured Russian soldiers tea and allowed them to use their cellphones to call home to let their mothers know that they were okay.

This next story is a bit longer and it comes from my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Linda Yates. And of course, I have her permission to share it. She and her husband Carl were in Dublin when Ireland decided to institute a strict lockdown to contain the coronavirus. Stores soon began to run out of food. Hotels and restaurants would begin to close and they were about to be evicted from their hotel room not knowing if they were going to be allowed on a flight to Canada.

They were stranded, strangers in a strange land, vulnerable, unable to access money in their bank account because of various issues having to do with travelling in a strange land, so were almost exclusively using credit cards.

A cousin in England offered them a place to stay, but as it turned out, they were able to get a flight out, but they began to wonder what was happening to international students stuck in Canada?

Once home, she contacted the Rev. Robyn Hewitt-Brown, the United Church chaplain at Dalhousie University.  She connected them to Omar, a young Lebanese engineering student. Omar lived with them for six weeks. During their first meal together, he asked them why they would take the risk of inviting a stranger into their home.

They also asked him: Was he not also taking a risk? They spoke of their respective faiths, Muslim and Christianity, their common ancestor Abraham, and how to give and to receive hospitality is a courageous act at any time. An act of vulnerability and trust.

So my friends, I have no way to tie up this scripture passage neatly into a lesson for us. I simply encourage all of us to go deeper into being neighbours and pondering what that means.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.

Luke 10: 25-37

March 27, 2022 – SMUC

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