1. October 2017

Harvest Celebration Communion: Being a loving Neighbour


‘…And your neighbour as yourself…’ (Luke 10, 27b).

Sometimes, it’s best to quit when you are ahead. The young man had asked his question and in response to Jesus had answered well. But he had to go just that bit too far – as if to prove himself in front of the others, he posed a question of his own, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ For us the word ‘neighbour’ is most commonly associated with those who live next door. Indeed, the etymology of the word in English suggests the meaning, ‘one who lives close by’. You can’t choose your neighbours. One’s home life can hover between heaven and hell depending on who lives next door to us. But Jesus shifts the meaning from that of a noun to that of a verb -at the end he asks ‘who acted as neighbour…’ And so, we can Take Jesus’ parable and conclude thus, “We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. (...)

There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbours.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen: ‘Bread for Journey, A daybook of Wisdom and Faith’).

Jesus is making us realise that if our love for God is as genuine as we claim it to be, then every day we will be presented with practical opportunities to put such love into action by acting as neighbour to whoever requires us so to act. The Greek word translated as ‘neighbour’ is derived from the word for ‘near’. Jesus is saying that ‘neighbour’ is not to be understood as one who is near to us, but we act as ‘neighbour’; we are to draw near to those who need us so to do in time of need. And if we are prepared to ‘draw near’ to those in need we will find that any number of opportunities for ‘love in action’ will present themselves…

” It’s likely that every day presents an opportunity for you to practice radical hospitality to someone with whom you cross paths. There is no shortage of people who could use the fit of a caring, welcoming person in their life. How awesome would it be if, in a time of need, the first thing people would say is, "I need a Christian!" If you expect to be that person, you'll be surprised at how often the opportunities come along for you to show love through radical hospitality.” (Thom Schultz).

And when we can see this, then all of a sudden there is no person, potentially, who can be discounted as ever being in need of acting as ‘neighbour’ to them. And such an insight allows us to make sense of the parable. Jesus contrasts two people – the Priest and the Levite – who should by definition have acted as neighbour, who should have drawn near to the man, who should have crossed the road but they chose to regard the man as a stranger, to keep their distance, to keep to their side of the road. He contrasts them with a third man, somebody who should instinctively have shied away from the injured man, been sufficiently wary of him to keep his distance, to keep to his side of the road; but he chose not to, instead he chose to cross the road, to get near to him, to do for him what was needful…

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” (Martin Luther King Junior).

This is the essence of the Gospel, the epitome of the love God has demonstrated to the world in Jesus, the love in response to which we pledge ourselves to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind’. It is this love, Selfless love, self-giving love, sacrificial love, Calvary love that closes the distance between us and whoever, that shrinks the world down to just two sides of the same street, that causes us to realise that we are to be neighbour to be anyone and everyone regardless just because as surely as God has ‘drawn near to each and every one of us in Christ’ so we too are to ‘draw near’ are to be a ‘neighbour’ to act in a ‘neighbourly’ fashion to anyone and everyone according to their need, precisely because in Christ we are drawn to one another in Him. It’s a tough ask because strangers and neighbours don’t mix very well; even less so enemies and neighbours, but hear this; it’s beautiful simplicity should bring us to our knees…

“Men think that it is impossible for a human being to love his enemies, for enemies are hardly able to endure the sight of one another. Well, then, shut your eyes--and your enemy looks just like your neighbour.” (Soren Kierkegaard: ‘Works of Love).

The challenge of the Gospel is this: you cannot play politics when people are in need, when people need others to draw near, to come alongside them, to help them. In a little while we will gather around the Communion Table and eat bread and drink wine together. Communion is God’s way of reminding us all, every one of us, that the love shown in Jesus is to be shared with each and alike. Here we meet with our families, with our friends with our neighbours; here we meet with strangers, here we might even meet with those we would count as our ‘enemies’ – people we dislike, people we hate – the discipline of Communion demands that we set all this aside, if only for a few brief moments because here more than anywhere we cannot but be ‘neighbour’ to each other. Compassion, Vision, Perspiration, Acumen – essential characteristics of anyone who would claim to love God, because these are the ways such love translates – translates in the way we love our neighbour, even as we love ourselves: no, rather even as we ourselves would wish others to love us.