Points To Ponder/“There Goes the Neighborhood”
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity?”
My wife Marcella walked Elizabeth to school one morning. She just started kindergarten and she is loving it! As they walked around the drop-off circle, children were filing out of the school buses parked there. Out of one of the buses, two of Elizabeth’s classmates stepped off; a Hispanic girl and a black girl, holding hands. Elizabeth excitedly greeted them, said goodbye to her mom, and then joined hands with one of the girls. What a sight to behold, a white girl, a black girl, and a Hispanic girl holding hands and walking into school together. And a little child shall lead them.
I have been to sermons and seminars on racial harmony. I have heard the platitudes about “inclusiveness.” These girls showed the more excellent way. It is amazing how much more advanced kids are than a lot of adults who are decades beyond kindergarten. Kids just love each other. They are in each other’s lives for a major part of the day. They share a common space, for a common purpose, and thus they are friends. The greater purpose (education) is what brought them to that common place. It is what compels them to be together. Within that common purpose, connections have developed. Maybe they will be friends for life. Who knows? They haven’t had the seminar on inclusiveness. They haven’t celebrated “ethnic diversity,” or “affirmative action.” They’ve never heard of the Ku Klux Klan or the NAACP. In fact if you ask my daughter to describe what one of her friends looks like, she will talk about hair color, eye color, maybe height; however, she never mentions skin color. She can see through it.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is inspiring to watch a child behold the beauty of another at a level that’s more enlightened than that of the enlightened, and more mature than that of the mature. This reminds me of Jesus’ warning in the gospel, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). The mature, enlightened religious experts despised and rejected Him; but the children could see past the politics and prejudice and hidden agendas of the detractors. They knew Him and were drawn to His pure love and acceptance.
Jesus touched lepers even though the laws commanded lepers to keep their distance. Jesus went into Samaria, engaged in conversation with a Samaritan woman, and asked her for a drink from her water vessel (scandalous!). He selected two of his twelve disciples from opposite sides of the political spectrum; Matthew, a tax collector would be worthy of assassination as a traitor by a zealot like Simon. I would not be surprised if, when Jesus sent them out in pairs to heal and to preach the gospel, He made Matthew and Simon go together. (“You boys better be nice and get along”, he may have said).
In Acts 1:7-8, before He ascended to heaven, He told the disciples that they would be “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” In other words, they would be going into their home neighborhood and territory (familiar ground) and also to places in which they were not welcome, nor desirous, to go. Samaritans and Jews despised each other.
That’s why the parable of the Good Samaritan is such a powerful teaching. It’s equivalent to a black man in 1940’s Mississippi helping an injured white man. Not only would he have risked being hated by the white man because the black man touched him; he might have been accused of robbing and beating the white man himself!
Yet the Samaritan saw a man who was injured. He got into the man’s life, dealt with the issue at hand by doing what was in his power to make it right. No color codes, no racial heritage qualifiers on either man’s part. It was simply two men, on the same road with a higher purpose: to live. The question that prompted Jesus to answer with this parable was simply “who is my neighbor?” The questioner was looking for qualifiers, conditions, and categories. It’s as if “neighbors” come in a choice of colors, national origins, races, etc. No. There’s no choice. Neighbors are.
Let’s see it a different way: “Who is MY neighbor?” Again, there must be a qualifier, a set of conditions that allows me to choose MY neighbor by color, creed, origin, etc. But no, the three girls holding hands to go into school are the embodiment of the parable’s truth. “Neighbor” is big stuff.
We can come into each other’s lives with a loving heart and an extended hand. I don’t have to limit my involvement in another’s life by seeing a skin color, and ethnic label, or some other biological marker that prioritizes our differences above our commonalities. We all share a common purpose: to live. We come at it from different and varying points of origin. But the higher purpose brought us into each other’s path.
Yes the “Good Samaritan” was still known as a Samaritan. But the question was “who is my neighbor?” Read the story (Luke 10:25-37). The priest nor the Levite was a “neighbor” to the injured man. What made the Samaritan “good” was that he chose FIRST to be a “neighbor.” When he got involved in the victim’s life, he was more than a Samaritan. He stepped UP to become the neighbor. He became vulnerable, he sacrificed time and resources, and he risked himself to do it.
That’s what our little girls illustrated that day. Just take my hand; let’s get into each other’s lives. Let’s stop settling for the politically correct safer road of “celebrating our diversity.” That’s nice. But being neighbors is riskier. Neighbors go for the higher ground: let’s do what it takes from all of us to make life good for all of us.
We Christians have Jesus as our model and the one who commissioned us to care about souls. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the Full.” (John 10:10) NIV
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.