“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
These lyrics are from the song “Won’t You be my Neighbor?” that was sung at the beginning of every episode of the children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While singing this song, host Fred Rogers would enter his make-believe neighborhood house, hang up his coat, put on a cardigan zipper sweater, remove his dress shoes, and put on a pair of blue sneakers. The showed debuted as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1966.
For decades Rogers influenced children to be neighborly, to be kind and loving toward others no matter who they are or where they are from. Rogers’ idea of neighborliness is not new. In fact, it is rather ancient.
Long before Rogers adorned the cardigan zipper sweater and blue sneakers, Jesus walked the dusty roads of Israel calling the people of his day to show the same kind of kindness and love no matter who the individual is or where they are from. On one particular day when a religious leader was trying to make himself look good in front of others, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replies, not with a song like Rogers, but with a story much more jolting, the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). As the story is told by our Lord, a man is robbed and left for dead. First, on two different occasions two religious leaders see the wounded man, ignore his needs and avoid him altogether. A third man, as Jesus describes, a Samaritan, sees the injured man and has compassion for him, a compassion that leads to action. He cares for the man by providing for his needs.
Jesus, then, sets the trap by asking the religious man which individual was a neighbor to the wounded man. He is forced to answer, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Why is this story such a shock to all that may have heard it and even us today?
Love of neighbor as Jesus followers is not restricted to ethnicity or geography or even religion. The most unlikely person to show love and mercy in Jesus’ story is the Samaritan. To the Jew, the Samaritan was the enemy, the one hated and despised. Yet, regardless of his ethnicity, homeland, or religion, the Samaritan is the one who showed mercy and love to the man in need. Jesus closes his encounter with this self-righteous leader by telling him, “Go and do the same.”
In recent days there has been a flood of responses related to the Syrian crisis. Fear and cruelty mark many of the responses. Yet, let us remember, for those who follow Jesus, we can’t check our “love and mercy card” at the door for the sake of national security. While securing our borders is an important issue (and one that needs our attention), the gospel trumps all issues and calls us to be a people that love the vulnerable and hurting regardless of ethnicity, geography, or religion. The gospel of Jesus is for people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev 5:9). The gospel is for Americans and Syrians, for Iranians and Nigerians, for all peoples of the world.
While Jesus followers are not commanded to wear cardigan zipper sweaters (thank goodness) or blue sneakers, we are commanded to wear kindness, compassion, and love. For the sake of gospel impact, Jesus followers must sing,
“Won’t you please, won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?”
Let us go and do the same.