“In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address
When our children were young, they used to watch a TV program called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The neighborhood was composed of all shapes and sizes of muppets/puppets who represented a range of some of the different people a neighborhood, both people of proximity as well as the world of humans, might contain. It was a way to see both the differences as well as similarities we share. In my memory, the program contained a place for Mr. Rogers to sing a song which contained a verse, “I want you to be my neighbor.”
Mr. Rogers and Franklin Roosevelt are not the only ones who have focused on the action of being a good neighbor. This past Sunday, we heard The Parable of The Good Samaritan from Luke as our Gospel reading. We listened to a dialogue between a lawyer and Jesus. The bottom line of their conversation was that we are each called to be good neighbors and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, a truth for us and for nations.
Coincidentally, as I read the July 7th Sunday edition of The New York Times, I came across the obituary of “Robert V. Levine, 73, Professor Who Quantified Kindness,” a social psychologist. Levine studied cultures, trying to make sense of the world, “constantly trying to repair pieces of the brokenness all around,” and specifically how they perceived time. In one of his books, A Geography of Time, I found his statement that different cultures place different values on time. He pondered: is the pace fast, think New York, or wasted time, think hammock, valuable? Sometimes, he suggested, the most valuable, kind, thing one can do/give is to stop, do nothing, quiet time, perhaps to simply listen, making sense of the world one place and person at a time. In my mind, Levine is scripture based, whether he knew it or not. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col.3:2).
Roosevelt and Rogers, also a Presbyterian minister, were not original thinkers. Rather, I believe they drew their wisdom from Scripture. We are given guidelines for our living in Lk. 10:27. “You shall love the Lord your God with all with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor” (Rom. 15:2). Sounds simple and direct.
The idea sounds uncomplicated enough, kindness and love are to flow, but in the story of the Good Samaritan we see that even those who would be most likely to care for another, to be a good neighbor, sometimes fail, as do we. Two men, a priest and a Levite, men who are called to serve in The Temple, passed by the wounded man, no time to spare. What we are told is that it was the Good Samaritan who made time stand still, went beyond the call of duty, and cared for the wounded traveler/his neighbor in a way that blessed the beaten soul. What we also know is that the person Jesus praised is the one with mercy, the one who gave time and care, who is the good neighbor.
What is your personal policy, your rule for living? Does it come from God? What time do you have? No need to ask for a neighbor, they/we are all around you, as is our brokenness. We are called to take the time to listen to God, to look for and dedicate ourselves to and for our neighbor. Remember to look beyond the people next door and consider what your neighbors around the world might need. The choice is ours.
To God be the glory! Amen.