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One of my heroes in life is Fred Rogers .  Naturally, I was excited about the new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” that came out last summer about Mr. Rogers’ life.  One of the quotes that stood out to me most in the movie was:  “Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships.   Love, or the lack of it.”

Fred Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and his vision was to serve through the medium of television.  He believed that all human beings have value, should recognize their own value, and should treat others as valuable.  In fact, his reference to his television “neighbors” was Scriptural in nature and can be found in the Golden Rule: to love your neighbor as yourself.

Once, Jesus was approached by a lawyer and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

I think that’s an inherent question in many of our hearts and souls.  Who is my neighbor?  If I can qualify what a neighbor looks and acts like, then it seems easier to follow the golden rule, especially, if my neighbor looks and acts like me.

Jesus challenged the lawyer by telling him the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A man, beaten, robbed, and left for dead, is passed by and disregarded by two important and prominent men.  A third man, a Samaritan (despised by Israelites), stopped and helped him, bandaged his wounds, and paid for his room and board while he healed. At the end of the story, Jesus turns the questioning back on the lawyer:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”  Luke 10:36 ESV

I can almost imagine the lawyer reticently replying:

“The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:37 ESV

Suffice it to say, that lawyer went away challenged in his thinking about who qualifies as a neighbor. This was probably not the answer he was expecting, and maybe not the answer he wanted.

Although showing compassion to our “neighbors” seems like a simple enough concept, it can be challenging and uncomfortable.  I believe most people naturally fall into one of two categories:  1) those who have a harder time showing mercy and  2) those who show mercy easily, but without boundaries.

I think the first of these categories is the one that most people think of in regards to the Good Samaritan.  After all, two men, respected by their community, passed the injured man, not bothering to even acknowledge him.   Often those who are suffering are not lovely.  They can remind us of things we don’t want to think about: poverty, grief, or pain.  To stop and help makes us acknowledge those things we would rather leave unnamed.  Helping might even lead to our own vulnerability, or at least our own discomfort.  Still, the Lord commands it, and showers us with His mercy so that we can in turn dispense mercy to others.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood…

On the other hand, some are so merciful, they hardly know where to stop.   The Good Samaritan didn’t go overboard.   Caring people can get so consumed helping others, that they may not set proper boundaries, and therefore get overwhelmed and burned out.  I am encouraged to see that although the Samaritan helped the man in significant ways, he really went on with his life afterwards.  He paid an innkeeper to care for the injured man and said that he would come back to check on him.  He did not cancel his work engagements for the week.  He did not move the man into his home for the next six months.  He did not offer to buy him an all new wardrobe.  He did what was needed in the moment.  He offered compassion, kindness, and tangible help to a man who was suffering. Mercy, even to our neighbors, can have boundaries.  Doesn’t that make showing mercy seem much less overwhelming?

Pause:  Find a quiet place to read the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37.  What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take a personal inventory.  Is it difficult or easy for you to show mercy to others?   God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Is it difficult for you to show mercy to yourself?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, think and pray about how you might begin to change this.

Next:  Keep your eyes open this week and wait for the Lord to show you someone to whom you can show mercy.  Neighbors are all around us!

Love is a fruit of the Spirit and, for the believer, really is at the root of all things. Love leads to compassion and action.  May you be encouraged and blessed as you find your “neighbors” this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!