Jesus was asked by a legal expert of the day about the requirements for inheriting eternal life.
Jesus responded to the question with a question, “What does the law say? What is your understanding?”
The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus agreed, saying, “Do this and you will live.”
The lawyer, apparently unsatisfied with the answer, asked a followup question, “Who is my neighbor?”
At this point, Jesus told the parable of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left for dead.
Some forty years ago, I was able to purchase my first house. This house became my first home after I completed my university studies and began life outside “the nest.” It is to this home that I would return on many challenging afternoons after teaching in the local public high school. It is in this home that I spent time with my first “real” guitar trying to learn to play it. It is this property that is the focus of my thoughts in these words.
This first little house served as home to me on several occasions as I faced some life changes. It has been a rental property for most of the time I have owned it. In the eyes of some, it is not lovely. To others, it offends their dainty sensibilities. To me, it’s just a little house filled with character and lots of stories to tell.
On Saturday last, the darkness that lives within some people’s being found my little house. A new tenant of two weeks was allegedly brutally assaulted on the property by three guys. The fiance of my tenant and her granddaughter were witnesses to the events. My tenant subsequently died from the injuries. My wife and I are devastated by this event and are working through things cautiously, judiciously, and systematically. Ultimately, we will do what we think is the right thing. We are also learning about the neighbors to the property.
In the parable, Jesus tells of a priest who happened to be traveling down the same road, and seeing the injured man, passed by on the other side offering nothing.
We are now receiving unsolicited contacts from some in the neighborhood who apparently assume that they are the victims in this tragedy. One “neighbor” offered to help us “bulldoze” the property. I doubt that they offered any concern, condolence, or support to those who witnessed someone they loved being brutalized.
Jesus continued the parable. Similarly, a Levite, someone believed to be particularly suited for the priesthood passed by offering no help.
My wife got a phone call from another “neighbor” who recently moved near the subject property. They described the property as “blight” on the community because “someone was murdered there.” There was no offer to help the victims. The tone of the telephone conversation implied that the caller didn’t think that these folks deserved to live nearby. I am appalled, but not surprised, by these reactions. This particular individual brings to mind someone who builds a house near the departure end of an airport then complains that there’s too much noise from the airplanes.
But a third person, a Samaritan, a group generally hated by the Jews, came to the man, took pity on his condition, and bandaged his wounds. He carried the man to an inn and continued to take care of him, leaving money for his continued care with a promise to return and pay for any additional expenses incurred.
Jesus had the lawyer to acknowledge that of the three, the one who had shown mercy to the injured man, was the neighbor. The lawyer was directed to go and do the same kindnesses to other.
Thankfully, in the midst of this tragedy, there was a Samaritan. A kindly neighbor reached out in concern to the fiance of my deceased tenant offering caring counsel, words of encouragement, and a willingness to listen. That gives me hope for a world where hope is sometimes hard to find.
To the first two of these individuals, I would ask, where is your goodness? Where is your kindness? Where is your heart? Do you care for anyone other than yourself?
To the one who truly was a neighbor, I offer my deepest gratitude. I offer my deepest thanks, realizing that you respond this way not for personal praise or honor but because to do otherwise would be inconsistent with your quality as a human being. Please know that I recognize and commend your acts of kindness.
As to the property, it is not markedly different than it ever has been. It is maintained in a reasonable manner. It seems to me that the only thing that has changed is that these two “unlike a good neighbors” have been forced to realize that there exists real danger in our world that can appear when and where it is not expected. Wishing it not to be so does not make it so. Ostrich necking does not hide it. In this world, there are people who commit evil acts toward other human beings. They are not bound by the constraints of geography.
Certainly, I wish for and hope for and dream of safety and security for everyone everywhere, but the facts are, we live in a dangerous world. Danger can find its way into our lives at any time and in any place. Each person must find their own path to how they live their life. Some choose to pretend that bad things happen only in other places, in the “bad” part of town. I live my life aware that I am ultimately responsible for doing whatever I can to be safe and aware and, as much as is within me, to protect the people I love. I do not live in fear of what I cannot control. I am vigilant but not a vigilante.
I draw no conclusion about the quality of my now deceased tenant as a person as that is neither for me to say, judge, nor conclude. In my dealings with him, I saw someone who was trying to do his best. I saw someone who worked hard as a day laborer in a job that few people would be willing, or able to do. I saw someone who had people who loved and cared for him and wanted the best for him. My last conversation with him happened on the Thursday before his death. He phoned me to tell me that he knew that the first of the month was coming over the weekend and that I could stop by this week to pick up the rent. We talked for a bit and he told me about having some relatives over earlier that week. One of them cooked beef tips and gravy that they ate over rice. He told me they had used our seasoning blend in the gravy and it really was good. He didn’t expect that this phone call would be our last. I didn’t either.
The dust will settle. Life will go on. Healing will take place. Neighbors and neighborhoods will fall back into their complacent comfort. We will do our best to make the right decisions in these circumstances. Should those decisions mean that we do not bulldoze the property as suggested by one who seems to be wrapped up in self, or otherwise dispose of the property, as suggested by a heartless jerk, then so be it. I will choose to think about the one who lives life as a good neighbor. In that one and in the One who told the parable of the good neighbor, I will find hope for a better world.