“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” These first few lines of this song bring back wonderful memories of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid. Mr. Rogers was that wonderful “neighbor next-door” who embodied kindness and patience as he taught children how to handle all sorts of feelings and difficulty in life.
Mr. Rogers’ song is very different from the question asked by the lawyer in the Gospel lesson: “and who is my neighbor?” The unspoken aspect of his question is this: “and who isn’t my neighbor?” Jesus had just challenged this lawyer to do what the Law commands – love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But the reality of actually loving like God loves has put this lawyer in a difficult position.
If this lawyer says he loves God, well, then he needs to love his neighbor too. And if he says he loves his neighbor, someone could ask him for proof that he actually loves his neighbor. So to help get out from under this responsibility, the lawyer asks “and who is my neighbor?” Clarifying this would allow the lawyer to determine who is “us” and who is “them.” It would help him know whom he should love and whom he could ignore.
“Us” and “Them” – we know this well. As a society we divide ourselves in many different ways. We are constantly bombarded with divisions of race, gender, sex, education, financial means, and religion. Sometimes we use these issues to determine who is just like us and who is not – and in making that separation, we can be very unloving to “them” because they are not like “us” at all!
What Jesus brings to light is that we, like the lawyer, are like that man left for dead on the side of the road. We all needed someone to love us, show us mercy, heal us, pay for our hotel stay, and help us get better. Jesus is the One whom everyone despises because He associates with sinners, but Jesus is the One who perfectly embodies God’s love. Jesus fulfils the Law – He loves God perfectly and He loves His neighbor perfectly. And now as ones who have been shown God’s mercy, we too can love God and love our neighbor – not motivated by a rule of “us” and “them” but rather living that love of God we’ve already experienced, and living toward everyone.
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?”
God has said to you, “You are mine.” How then should you live? What if that little song played in your mind this next day? How would you live life differently toward your neighbor?
In His hands,
Pastor Matt Conrad