A neighbor is the one in need.

Homily 567 – 23 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 12, 2023
Epistle – (215) – Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel – (53) – Luke 10:25-37

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Christ is confronted with the most dangerous of questioners – an expert in the law.  Let there be no doubt – this was in fact a confrontation.  St. Luke reports the expert stood up to – quote – put Him to the test.

The Law in which this person was expert was the Torah – the Jewish Law.  613 rules and practices designed to prevent people from ever getting close to breaking the Ten Commandments.  I’m speculating here, but I imagine the Jewish rulers, the Sanhedrin, were quite interested in what this up-and-coming popular preacher was teaching the people – their people – about the Law – their Law.  God’s Law.

And I further speculate that this individual was a plant – a ringer – sent by the rulers to learn what this teacher was saying.  There wasn’t social media, there wasn’t any media.  Only word of mouth about this man.  Even the rulers knew one can’t necessarily trust word of mouth.

Yet, neither can they be seen.  Nicodemus was one, and he visited with this teacher by night, not in the open.

So Jesus is going to be very, very wary of this test.

Jesus in fact never answers the questions.  He first turns the question back to the lawyer.  Then, He agrees with the lawyer’s answer.  But the lawyer isn’t done by any stretch of the imagination.  He presses Jesus – “And who is my neighbor?”

“And who is my neighbor?”

The question echoes throughout time.  Who is our neighbor, that one that we are to love as ourselves?

So naturally, Jesus tells a story.  A story about a person robbed and beaten, left on the road.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan.  Or do we?  Do we realize that none, zero, of the individuals who encountered this person in need knew them?  Do we realize that according to the Law, the Torah, nor even the custom of the day, was anyone obligated to help someone they didn’t know?

So, in the story Jesus tells, there is no relationship at all between the man beaten and bleeding, and the ones who encountered him.  There is no obligation in the Law.

So let’s pause a second.  The Lawyer had asked “who is my neighbor?” Perhaps expecting the standard answer – the ones who live around you.  The ones in your tribe.

And, let’s remember, the question – the original question – was about eternal life.  What is required of us to be saved from damnation by God?

So, we get this story, where nobody has a prior relationship with anybody and nobody is under obligation to help.  I’m sure the expert in the law, sent to see what this teacher was doing, was probably baffled and humbled by the story.  I imagine he got the point.

So it is important for us to get the point.  Everyone is our neighbor.  Everyone on the planet.  Everyone with a need.  As they used to say in the south, every soul that draws breath is our neighbor.

That’s a bit overwhelming.  Remember what I said at the beginning – there was no social media, no media at all.  Today, all we have is media.  We know what is happening in Ukraine, and in Palestine, and in Southeast Asia, and in Antartica, before we even know what is happening on Lincoln Way in Campustown.

This too has an impact.  Christ isn’t telling us here to take care of every person we hear about – that would be impossible.  None of us, to my knowledge, has access to those kind of resources.  Maybe Christ is telling Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, or Elon Musk, to care for every need they hear about.

But what Christ tells us is to care for the need you encounter.  On our streets, on the highway between here and Boone, or here and Mason City, or here and Des Moines.

Care for the need you encounter – because everyone is our neighbor.

That is our need to meet, if we are able.  Some needs we aren’t able to meet.  That’s OK.  God asks us to meet the needs we can, not the needs we can’t.  Furthermore, even if there is a need we cannot meet, we can be present – we can be with them, so that they aren’t alone.

Frequently, someone who is injured or sick in some way, physical, mental, emotional, will withdraw from society.  Our role is to be with them, helping them to negotiate their way back into society as they heal.  That is helping them to bear their burdens.

Christ is asking us to sacrifice for the needs of others, but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice ourselves into our own need.  It isn’t even a mandate that we have to do without so that other’s needs can be met.

St. Paul even speaks to this in his second epistle to the Corinthians:

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack — that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

So let there be no doubt about who our neighbor is, and what we are supposed to do.  Everyone is our neighbor, and we meet the needs we are prepared and able to meet.  Mostly, we become a friend, and share in their burden.

This – this – is God’s will for us.  We wonder about what we are to do with our lives in the service of God.  This, brothers and sisters, is it.

To see the one in need, and to establish a relationship with them.  So that they become our neighbor.  So they become our brother, or our sister.  To share with them what God has given to us.  To be with them, to know them and their dreams and ambitions and problems and needs.  Just like we would want someone to be with us if we were in need.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.