The telling of The Parable of the Good Samaritan is prompted by the question: Who is my neighbor? That is a good question. Who is my neighbor? Serving as a law enforcement chaplain for the past 22 years has taught me that in some cases the answer to that question is…nobody. I do mean nobody.
I have gone with police officers to deliver death notifications on more than one occasion when the person receiving that unexpected and awful news has no one to support and comfort them. I do mean nobody.
Can I call a family member for you? There is no family… Can I contact your minister for you? There is no church home. Can I go next door or walk across the street and seek assistance from your neighbors? The grieving person does not know their neighbors. And so eventually I run out of ideas, and I realize that this individual has no support system. I do mean nobody.
Last week I delivered a death notification with a sheriff’s deputy that had a much different outcome. After delivering the news, we were able to reach a neighbor immediately. This kind individual showed up very quickly. I don’t think she ever took a class on pastoral skills, but she did what we call ministry of presence. She was not overbearing. She just served effectively and compassionately. She made necessary phone calls as she remained sufficiently calm to serve her longtime neighbor. The deputy and I soon slipped out. We knew that we had entrusted a grieving person into the hands of a loyal friend. That is a good feeling. She had somebody… She had a neighbor.
As we drove back into town, I could not help but be reflective. I contrasted the scene I just left with previous crisis events of the same kind. First the scene I just left flashed through my mind. I had an image of a wonderful neighbor embracing her friend in a spirit of unquestioned love. And then my mind flashed back to a lady with two young children. Several years ago I accompanied a federal agent to inform her of the death of her husband. When we finally left her house, she was all alone. We never found anyone to assist. There was no one. I do mean nobody…
A few days later it occurred to me that I had reached the wrong conclusion. The individuals I just described are not left without a support system. Family members may not exist. The person next door may very well be a stranger. But if I have read the Parable of the Good Samaritan correctly, I just realized that I have become that person’s neighbor. We may not live in the same area. We may have been strangers to each other five minutes ago. But I am called to be their neighbor in such circumstances. I won’t leave those people to grieve alone, because they need somebody. Who is my neighbor? That person in crisis is my neighbor.
Today I will repeat the question that prompted the telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is your neighbor? Who is it among your sphere of influence that has no basis of support? Who has been left on the side of the road of life to suffer emotionally? There is someone out there you can touch. Somebody that has no one. I mean nobody…