If I asked you to take a quiz and list all of your immediate neighbors by name, could you do it? I have to admit that I could not. I just thought it through and will say that, of the five properties that have someone “on the other side of the fence,” I can only name two of them. Two others I can tell you a few things about their lives; and the final neighbors just moved in a few weeks ago and I have not met them yet.
That probably doesn’t speak well of me, though I’ll say that our situation is a bit different due to the size of the properties around us. Three of the five get to their houses by using different roads than do I. So I don’t even see them. And the two that I do see, it is usually related to exchanging lost pets or livestock!
This is very different than it used to be in America. And we’ll be talking about that difference a bit on Sunday as we turn to the sixth parable in our series – that of The Good Samaritan.
You may recall that the story Jesus tells is set up by a question given him by “an expert in the law.” Here is the setting from Luke 10 …
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 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.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
One bane of the pastoral and ministry profession is this thing called “the ordination counsel.” To be ordained into the ministry, one must go through a thorough examination wherein you present a detailed doctrinal statement and paper, and then a group of already ordained fellows get to ask you anything they want to.
The only reasonable one of these I’ve ever seen was my own – in 1982 at the church where I was minister of music in Dallas; there were two other fellow seminary grads and myself seeking official ministry credentialing. The church knew all three of us very, very well; and they figured that if you survived Dallas Theological Seminary, you were pretty much theologically okay.
But over the years I have been asked to sit in and participate in a few of these, including for our former staff pastors Tom Savage and Bill Nelson. At every one of these I’ve ever been at, there is some wise guy who asks a ridiculously remote question about which there either is no firm answer, or, the answer is only known by someone who has meticulously studied some detail of theological minutia. Of course, the candidate mumbles through a futile attempt at an answer, while everyone else quietly thinks to themselves, “Good night, I have no idea what that is about.” And finally, the moderator asks the questioner, “Could you explain that to the candidate more clearly?” And this is the very moment the questioner desired from the beginning – an opportunity to look good in front of everyone … to look smarter than the others.
If you can picture that, you can picture the setting that led to the parable.
But the question is a timeless one to ask in terms of application. Who is our neighbor? It is a somewhat clear and easy thing to love these beautiful people over here, but to love THOSE dirty people over there? That’s a different story. We have categories, just as the Pharisees had categories of people. But Jesus messes with their categories, and he may mess with our own as we enter into this study and think about what it means for life in the Tri-State area in 2015.