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Whether you attend a church or not, chances are that you have probably heard the parable of the Good Samaritan in which this very question is put to Jesus.
At a time when the world is increasingly smaller and interconnected, this question is just as important now as it was millennia ago. How far do we have to look to find our neighbors? Across the street? Across town? On the other side of the planet? Who are our neighbors?
As with any good story, the brilliance of the Good Samaritan parable is in the way that it uses everyday imagery and likenesses to paint a picture. However, that everyday picture is that of first century Israel-Palestine. What might it look like through our own 21st century eyes?
Maybe something like this: a young man was out one day for a ride along the bike trail down by the river. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, someone jumped in front him, causing him to slam on his brakes and go flying over the handlebars. Luckily, his helmet protected him from any serious injury. However, in his state of shock, the same person who caused the accident, descended on him, stealing his smartphone and wallet. The young man was left in a ditch by the side of the bike trail, bruised and bleeding. Eventually, a businessman who was out for his afternoon exercise came by and saw the young man lying by the side of the trail. However, he was in a hurry to get back for his next meeting, so he did not stop. Then, a minister passed by. However, he was on his way to a gathering of other ministers for coffee, and he did not want to be late. Meanwhile, the young man lay there, unable to stand up, until a young woman passed by and stopped. She was an undocumented immigrant on her way to her evening janitorial shift. Though she was always worried and anxious about being fired or even deported and separated from her loved ones, her faith was strong. Thus, she knew that she had no other option but to help the hurting young man.
Who is the neighbor in this story? Like the Good Samaritan, it’s the woman who shows mercy. It’s the person who, of the three passersby, is probably most unlike the young man. It’s the person who most of us would probably least suspect.
The message of the parable is not that the Samaritan or undocumented woman is somehow superior to the other passersby. Instead, the message is that neighborliness is not conditional. Our neighbors are not only those who we might share a common geography, language, ethnicity, religion, or whatever else with. Our neighbor is anyone who needs or shares a little help and mercy. Our neighbors are the people we are interconnected with. Our neighbors are the people we chat with after mowing the lawn and the people whose dream it is to one day have a lawn, just so their children can play in peace.
Immigrants, the lonely person down the hall at work or school, people whose only wish is to find and create the same kind of peace and stability that we all hope for – all of them are our neighbors. While simply recognizing that may not amount to much, it is the first step to getting to know others, appreciating both our similarities and differences, and finding ways to help one another. By seeing the neighbor in one another, whether that person be living next door or on a whole other continent, we see that we are all in this life together, and it is only by working together that we can create a world that is rooted in mercy and thriving in kindness.

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