The Good Samaritan
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
I recently came across an old black and white picture from a newspaper and a story from the newspaper that printed it. For years, he had grown the best corn in the county. When asked about his process for growing such great corn, the reporter learned he shared his best seed corn for free with his neighbors. The reporter was shocked. Why on earth would he give away his seed corn to his competition. The farmer chuckled. It's not that surprising to a farmer. Every farmer knows that their land is adjacent to their neighbors. The plants cross-pollinate by wind, insects, and birds. If his corn were to cross-pollinate with substandard corn, his own corn would suffer. Helping his neighbors benefitted his corn too.
So it is with us as people, and our own neighbors. We can choose to see our community as competitors or as neighbors. If we see them as neighbors, our wellbeing is bound up with theirs. When they thrive, we thrive. When we give of our best to be shared without price or reciprocity, we become blessed with a shared bountiful harvest. The Samaritan knew that being a neighbor was not about proximity but about his actions, doing the right thing for the good of a whole, rather than for himself.
God calls us to this same kind of mercy. Jesus is telling us in this parable that to be oriented to seek to help others is good for others, good for us, and good for a whole community. These are not cause and effect dominos to be traced, tracked, predicted, or strategized about for our own self-interest. These are interconnected and organic. When we prepare meals for people who are sick or out of work or experiencing loss, we don't do it so they will cook meals for us in hard times, though we may indeed benefit in that way too. We do it because God calls us to do it. We may never see the benefit of how they pay it forward or benefit our whole community. The farmer wasn't at every table fed by his good corn, but he was part of something greater. When we give charitably, serve selflessly, vote responsibly, and speak up for justice, we are being a neighbor to the least of these. Our calling is to live in generous ways with our giving and living as to do good we never see for neighbors we may never meet, as if they are gathered at our table, grinning ear to ear.