A certain man, life-long student of sacred texts, faithful in religious obligations, admired for doing good deeds and giving favors to those in his friendship circles, found politics fascinating. He had made decisions on political stances based on his understandings of the sacred texts he studied.
He did not understand how others, also studying those sacred texts, could come to opposite conclusions, and was well-known for his vigorous debates. Surrounded by those who agreed with his positions, he took an even firmer line with those who dissented, rejoicing when they suffered defeat. He sensed that he had power to correct many societal wrongs and do much good.
But he found a growing empty core at his center and began to wonder if he was going to spend eternity with God. Yet surely God approved of him.
After research, and always used to the best, he learned of a particular Teacher whose popularity was growing crazily. The Teacher appeared to have a fresh take on what it meant to know God.
Confident of his access to heaven, but needing to get this settled once and for all, he approached the Teacher, asking briskly and with authority, “Sir, what do I have to do to know for sure I have eternal life?”
The standard answer disappointed him, “Love God and love neighbor as self.”
Needing to get his certainty nailed down with a careful definition of “neighbor” (people in his social/political circles?) he persisted: “And just WHO is my neighbor?”
Instead of a straight answer, the Teacher told a story.
A lowly paid door-to-door walker whose job it was to leave flyers for a particular political party found himself surrounded by an urban gang. They jumped him, beat him up, and stripped him of all his possessions, then left him for dead at the corner of a downtown intersection. They piled his fliers on his head.
The regional leader of the party promoted on the flyer, in town to raise several million dollars at a black-tie dinner, was being driven to the dinner when the driver stopped his car suddenly. Several of the fliers had hit his windshield and temporarily blinded him.
The leader saw the man through the window, beat up, naked and unconscious on the street, but didn’t dare stop and help because he might get his formal clothes dirty. Also, he was on a very important conference call to headquarters and didn’t want to interrupt the strategy session. He impatiently waved to the driver to keep going.
The leader of the opposition party also drove by heading to a protest rally. He saw the flyer and the injured man, and kept going. He figured the guy got what he deserved. Bad neighborhood, after all. Stupid place to be.
A homeless woman, once decently employed, but fallen on hard times by unpaid medical bills that landed her in bankruptcy, stopped. She looked at the man’s bloody face and realized it was her husband. He had routinely beat her up before leaving her for another woman but they had never formally divorced.
She headed to a nearby 24 hour convenience store, pleaded with the clerk to call 911, and stayed with her husband until the paramedics came. She stopped the worst of the bleeding and comforted him, pillowing his head with the scattered papers. The ambulance arrived 45 minutes later.
The paramedics let her ride to the hospital with them. She stayed until she knew that he was going to be OK. She bought him a fresh set of clothes before going back to her lonely life.
After the Teacher told this story, he looked hard at the man before him and said, “Now, which of them was the neighbor?”
The man looked at the Teacher and said, hesitantly, “The one who stopped and helped?”
The Teacher said, “Now, you go and be neighborly.”
(With apologies to Luke 10:25-37)