Growing up, life was very different than previous generations. I was born as the Vietnam “conflict” was ending, Nixon was no longer president and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was being produced in color (We didn’t own a color TV, but I digress.) What I didn’t realize was how much of an impact Mr. Rogers had been having in the 10 years or so before I was born. PBS was producing Sesame Street with actors who were of all different colors, languages, and even disabilities. The Electric Company did too. But they seem only to have been so in the early 70’s because Mr. Rogers had been fighting racial divisions with kindness and caring in the 60’s. In a famous episode, while race relations were at their most contentious level, Mr. Roger’s invited his African American postal carrier to join him while dipping his feet in a swimming pool. This would have been enough to show children how to play with others who looked differently, but Mr. Rogers went further. Mr. Rogers removed his friend’s shoes and socks, and while holding his friend’s feet, he washed them with the water, dried them off and talked to him as a friend, not just someone he saw for a few seconds a day.
Jesus had a way with those who wanted to “justify themselves”, that is, those who wanted to find every loophole to walk through life as is while still getting what they wanted. In Luke 10:25-37, when asked to define who is my “neighbor”, Jesus tells the story of a man who is beaten and left for dead. He is passed by two religious officials, a priest and a Levite, and both of them passed by putting as much space between themselves and the injured man as possible. A third man, a Samaritan, makes no hesitation in caring for the man’s wounds, and after taking care of his immediate needs, he loads the man on his own donkey and takes him to an inn for the man to recover, paying the innkeeper for his trouble in advance. The lawyer is then asked… “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
It is clear that as often as we look at those around us as our neighbors, it is we who are the neighbor to another. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was not composed of those who surrounded him, but those he was a neighbor to. And in return, they were neighbors to him. How might our life change and our witness to Christ if we viewed our lives as being neighbors rather than others as being our neighbors. One is limitless and the other is limited by our own justification. Jesus’ answer to us is “Go and do likewise.”
Do I try to “explain away” Jesus’ instructions to allow myself to live as I like?
Do I treat others as I want to be treated or as I am treated?
Does my desire to be right keep me from doing what is right?