Friday, July 20, 2007

Hey Buddy, Yeah, You, You're My Neighbor, Now Get Used to It.

When I read the topic of Sunday's sermon on the church's website, I have to admit my heart fell an eighth of an inch, this is not to say that I felt down hearted, it was that I've heard this story so many times in my church sitting years that I wasn't looking forward to hearing the story again. The same question is always raised out of the story of the Good Samaritan. It's an honest question, it's the same question that Jesus asked, “Which one acted like a neighbor?” (Luke 10: 25-37)

I have to tip my hat to Rev. Rachel, she did what had to be in my mind the toughest job ever done, she made this story fresh. She presented the two who went before the Samaritan as local religious leaders—Indianapolis notables, that made the story come alive right there. The real kicker for me was when she asked the question that the religious leader who cornered Jesus asked, “Who is my neighbor.” Of course, she turned the question toward all of us to think about, she didn't ask just us, she was asking herself too, and I dare say that like most of us in the pews, she could nearly recite the answer that Jesus gave.

This week I've thought about the answer as I see it. The important part of the story isn't exactly that the Samaritan man showed mercy, though without it we really don't have a story. The thing that I accepted was Rev. Rachel's challenge to look about us and see just who are neighbors are, who are they really?

While I sit at this computer and write these blogs I can see out on the street of my inner city neighborhood. I can't say that I live downtown and I don't think that we have enough inner city to call it uptown or midtown, I like the term, Central City; has a nice ring to it. Looking out of my apartment I can see a very important corner here in the Central City. It is an important corner because it is one of the busiest for drug trade and prostitution. In a casual conversation that I had with an investigative reporter once long ago I shared the concept that I have observed over the years of living here and watching what goes on, the idea is simple really, if the city were to observe the business system of the drug business in my neighborhood and were able to see the supply chain and upper management they would have one of the most dynamic models for government, commerce, and industry in the world. If the city were to invite companies to this city and insist that they learn from this model every tax in the city would be lowered because of the increased productivity and sales would skyrocket. I'm not going to give away their secrets here, it's not my business, but I am going to give a description of the lower echelon.

Day in and day out, twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year, in the most pleasant of weather, (as we have right now,) to the hottest possible, (like we just had, factor in the humidity,) to the coldest day on record, rain, snow, fog, sleet, hail, with the tornado warning siren blaring in their ears because it's just over their heads and through every possible condition or time; they pace, they walk from the corner of a numbered street and a state named street, (clever aren't I?). They sit on retaining walls and yell at the oncoming cars of former clients. They are joined by prostitutes, because one stop shopping is still popular. Well, let's just put it this way, they are definitely difficult to see as my neighbor and yet they are right there in my neighborhood. If one were to fall and be physically in trouble like the victim in the Samaritan story, would I rush down and dress his/her wounds and put them up in the local hospital and pay the tab? I think that I would call 911 for them, but I have to say that I don't think that I could do what the Samaritan man did. Would I be expected to put myself in possible danger to do so? That's a good question, the Samaritan did, the robbers who beat the unidentified man could have easily made the Samaritan their next victim. He easily could have been the next to be robbed and beaten because he didn't know how far the thieves had gone, they could have been lurking, using the victim as bait. This is a tough call.

It is hard to look at others as neighbors too, people around us who take advantage of us until we feel that we cannot stand another use or abuse of our kindness. This one is a mixed question, are they still my neighbor? I think so, does the lesson Jesus taught about bearing the Centurions back pack apply here? I would like to think that it does.

There is another element in my community, but it isn't just a neighborhood, though in my case it does apply partially since I've been told that I live in the gay ghetto. I've met, let me rephrase that, I've tried to meet folks that I recognize as being a part of the gay community. Most often the effort that I make is to recognize them with a hello in the grocery. A nod, a friendly greeting at Mc Donald's when they are getting coffee on their way to work. I am more often than not astounded by the response that I get. Often it is the same response that the first two respondents in the Samaritan story gave. I don't understand that. I met a man one time in a place where my company buys supplies. I greeted him, I recognized him from my neighborhood. He gave me the grimace of, “Why are you speaking to me? I don't know you.” Yep, that's the point, you don't, but I'm your neighbor. I saw him several times in my neighborhood and waved...nothing. I saw him in church one Sunday, greeted him, that same look again. Finally, I walked up to him and said when I was getting supplies, “Hi, I'm Don, we live in the same neighborhood, that makes you my neighbor. Where I come from we recognize our neighbors, be that in the grocery, on the street, wherever. I see you take your dog for a walk I can see you from my desk, I watch to make sure that you are okay, we don't have much crime other than drug sales in our area, but I watch you just the same. If anything were to happen to you, I would call the cops, and be out the door to help as fast as I could. I believe in community.”

First a smile came to his face, his response was a surprise to me, “I'm glad to meet you, thank you for being a neighbor and watching out for me, I really do appreciate that as I am often a bit leery of what goes on in the neighborhood, I'm glad to know that you are aware.” Inside I was leaping for joy. Don't take me wrong, I wasn't excited because I was accepted as a Samaritan, but because I was, make that, am seen as a neighbor. It feels really good.

I like to think of the story of the Good Samaritan as being wrongly titled. It should have been called, The Samaritan who did good. Who was the real neighbor in the story? The young religious scholar told Jesus, “The one who treated him kindly.” Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” While this is the important lesson in the story, I think that the most important person in the story is the victim. The victim made it possible for three men, maybe add the inn keeper and make it four, to learn just how important it is to be the neighbor, the good neighbor, the neighbor who did good. It's hard to remember that just as those drug dealers and prostitutes are my neighbors, we all are, I'm their neighbor too.


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