Good Samaritan

Being a Neighbor

Neighborhood concept, abeadev /

Neighborhood concept, abeadev /

Let me tell you about Steve the neighbor.

When my sister and her family moved some years ago, they quickly learned that they had a lot of retired people as neighbors. Steve lives next door, a former postman who had to retire because of a balky hip. Big and strong, a little rough with the language — all part of his charm.

Steve and two retired buddies on the street spend a lot of time together, grilling together, helping each other through the many challenges that come with getting older. And if anybody needs assistance with anything, they are there to help.

They often say: “We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.“

Steve knows when my sister’s children get home from school, so on snowy days, he’ll rev up the plow and clear her sidewalk and driveway so they can get through without getting stuck. He does it without prompting. Anything else I can help with? The garage door is shimmering? There’s a shrub that needs to be dug up? Be right there with my buddies.

You know those people who make you feel better just because you’re around them? How their upbeat attitude rubs off on you? You leave them with a smile on your face? That’s him.

As my brother-in-law puts it, Steve is a perfect neighbor. Concerned, but not nosy. Willing to help, but never pushy. No payment is accepted. The feeling that they’ve helped someone is thanks enough.

They’re neighbors. It’s what they do.

The Budget and Your Neighbor

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova /

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan, Renata Sedmakova /

Gov. John R. Kasich (R-Ohio) did a shocking thing recently. He broke with his political allies and decided to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor people in his state through the Affordable Care Act. Then he called a spade a spade, saying: “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.”

Kasich’s statement came just two days ago. And today, 47 million low-income Americans will see their food stamps benefits decrease as stimulus funding ends. In light of this newly named “war on the poor,” I’ve been reflecting on Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, and the man’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” What an intriguing question.

Of course one of the most incredible things about this story is that Jesus never answers the lawyer’s question. Rather, he tells a story about a man beaten by robbers on a dangerous road. He was stripped naked left lying there, clinging to life. Both a priest and Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan went out of his way, broke his usual routine, used up his own gas (or at least his donkey’s energy) to bring the man to an inn. And he took care of him overnight at the inn, offering the innkeeper what would today be about $330.

And then Jesus flips the script! The lawyer asked who exactly is my neighbor? Who do I have to love? And conversely who can I cross off my need-to-love list?

Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus returns his question with a question: “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Nowadays we hardly have a concept of what it means to be a neighbor anymore.

The Neighborhood Watch: The Story of the Blind Samaritan

Neighborhood watch sign on a gate. Photo courtesy gabriel12/

Neighborhood watch sign on a gate. Photo courtesy gabriel12/

Florida’s “stand your ground” law — a source of collective ire at present — is an iteration of the Good Samaritan Laws that exist in this country: laws that offer protection from lawsuits for those who help or protect their neighbors. If you dig a hole to save a child’s life, that child’s family can’t sue you for damage to their lawn. Sounds like a good thing, right? Sounds like the spirit of these laws comes directly from the Bible.

Neighborhood Watch programs are born from the same spirit: they empower those who want to protect their neighbor with the authority to do so. George Zimmerman was allowed to have a gun so that he could be a Good Samaritan.

The problem with Neighborhood Watch programs and stand your ground laws is that, in their rush to be the Samaritan in the story, they never ask the question the lawyer asks in Luke 10: “Who is my neighbor?”



On Scripture: Good Samaritans All Around

Mosaic of the Good Samaritan. Photo courtesy Renata Sedmakova/

In recent weeks, a number of controversial and divisive political questions have dominated the news. Race and voting rights, abortion in Texas, and marriage equality at the Supreme Court have opened anew the scars of old political and cultural wars. 

In this conflicted political ambit, the Samaritan's bold compassion is a needed reminder today. Let’s remember to be kind to the stranger, certainly. But just as important is that the story of the Good Samaritan also invites us to imagine ourselves in a different part of this narrative.

Imagine yourself not as the Samaritan seeking to love God and neighbor. Imagine yourself as the person in need. A man on the brink of death. A woman in deepest grief. A man lost in the world. A woman with no hope. Imagine yourself at your most vulnerable, deep in despair with only one hope: perhaps someone will help me.

When Robbers and Innkeepers Profit from Good Samaritans

Pollution dirties the holy Hoogly river in Calcutta. Photo courtesy Hung Chung Chih/

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well-known, beloved, and influential portions of the New Testament. As a striking narrative about care and compassion for others, the content of Luke 10:29-37 has reverberated throughout the centuries as a clear and profound call to public love through personal action. All together, the radical hospitality of the Samaritan has sparked various charitable acts and organizations around the world. Thus, one can argue that no other parable has offered a more profound impact on the course of human history. 

10 Years Later, Mister Rogers is Still Making Neighbors

Photo courtesy RNS.

Fred Rogers hosted 'Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood' on PBS from 1968 to 2001. Photo courtesy RNS.

Fred Rogers, the man behind the long-running Mister Rogers Neighborhood children’s show, died 10 years ago, but his influence is still felt deeply here, the city he called home.

This past week, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary devoted its summer leadership conference to insights from his life and work.

The conference drew an eclectic mix of participants, including psychologists and social workers, educators, clergy, and laity.

Heartbreak Beyond Heartbreak (Hill)

Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain /

Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain /

The Boston Marathon bombing is so shocking because it was obviously done by someone(s) who wanted to prove something not to themselves, but to others. Could they display to the world his repressed rage enough? Could they divert attention to their cause enough? Could they maim and kill the innocent for some misguided agenda enough? That is what makes this act of terrorism so terrifying: a sick person or people trying to prove something to others by targeting those who are simply proving something to themselves, or trying to do something for others. It is jarring.

Ninety minutes before the bombs detonated, I was concluding a presentation on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That recent immersion into Luke’s narrative shaped my video viewing of the bombing’s aftermath. The one who “fell into the hands of robbers” was everywhere. The assaulted and bloodied were scattered by the side of the road, in this case, Boylston Street. Instead of people passing by on the other side, however, it was quite the opposite. Spectators and emergency medical personnel waded into the grisly scene and treated the wounded with exquisite care.

I Continue to Fail “The Poor”

By Geoff Wong ( via Wikimedia Commons

By Geoff Wong ( via Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to think I’m pretty consistent in my advocacy for the poor. I have worked with numerous poverty-related nonprofits over the years, preached about it and worked on it in church, written about it, and so on. But in general, all of that remains at a large “macro” level. It is a nameless, faceless group known broadly as “the poor,” or worse, it simply becomes an issue.

Sometimes making it more real than that is emotionally overwhelming, if not paralyzing. When I worked in Fort Worth at an AIDS housing facility, seeing the multiple challenges first-hand that some of our residents faced was heartbreaking. In some cases it seemed they had little, if anything, on which to hang a shred of hope. At the Pueblo nonprofit I work with now, we have to turn away more than one thousand people a month when we run out of emergency assistance.

Jim Wallis on Congo, Supply Chain and the Good Samaritan

Children in Congo. Image via Wylio

Children in Congo. Image via Wylio

Your neighbor is every man woman and child who touched the supply chain used to make your cell phone, used to make the clothes you wear, the computers you type on and the cars you drive.

Your neighbors are all of God’s children. The theological reality that people of faith try to live out is that our neighbor is not defined by geographical proximity. Our neighbor is the person in need.

Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means a change of plans. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor means we have to slow down a little bit. Sometimes, caring for our neighbor might even cost us money.

There are people who haven’t wanted to get involved in the mess by the side of the road. They walk by it and say that it’s somebody elses responsibility. My job, they say, is at the end of the road at Jericho.  I’m just being faithful to my shareholders by maximizing profit. My job is just getting the products people want into the hands of those that want them. I can’t be worried about those who get left by the side of the road of my supply chain. If I stop to help clean up the mess along the way it might cost time and money.