The story is so familiar, perhaps too familiar.
A lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with the question, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer responds correctly, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responds with a story. A man is attacked by robbers and left near dead. A priest, and then a Levite, see the wounded man and pass by. A Samaritan, however, stops, binds the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn where he covers all the expenses until the man is fully recovered. “Which of the three was a neighbour to the man who fell among robbers,” Jesus asks. His listener responds, “the one who showed mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Most of us, if encountering a neighbour in need, will respond with care and mercy. That’s what neighbours do. I suspect, however, that if asked to identify our neighbours, we would be inclined to reference a pretty small circle of people with whom we share close bonds of social or geographic kinship. The people who live next door. My colleagues at work. Those who I sit closest to at church.
I suspect the Levite and the priest would respond in similar fashion. Certainly we can assume they did not perceive the wounded man to be a neighbour. How, otherwise, could they have possibly failed to respond to his obvious and urgent need? The Samaritan, on the other hand, clearly did view this man as being his neighbour. Somehow, his circle of kinship had been drawn wide. Where the others had seen the wounded man as someone to be avoided, the Samaritan saw a neighbour in need; and he responded in kind.
This June, the Eastern Synod Assembly will convene under the theme Liberated by God’s Grace … to be neighbour. We will spend time meeting with, and learning from, neighbours in the community who we may not have previously engaged in a meaningful way. Neighbours of other faith traditions. Neighbours of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. Neighbours bearing the weight of extreme poverty and homelessness. As disciples who have been liberated by God’s grace, we will seek to draw, sing and pray a wider circle of kinship and neighbourliness. We will seek to do what Jesus asks. “Go and do likewise.”
Worship at Synod Assembly 2018 will feature music from the recently published Sing the Circle Wide - Songs of Faith from Around the World which is drawn from the repertoire of Inshallah, a global music choir based at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary and directed by Debbie-Lou Ludolph.