Won’t You Be My Neighbor

July 14th, 2019 - Rev Kate Byrd

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”

What do you think of when you think of your neighbor? 

Do you think of the person who lives next door? Maybe your family or friends? Or your co-workers? Or maybe even the people who you follow and who follow you on social media? 

When I think of my neighbor, I think of knit sweaters, lace up shoes, a raggedy old tiger, and the calm melodic voice of Mr. Rogers. I recently watched the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, Fred Rogers documentary. And, if you havn’t seen it yet, and would like to spend an hour and a half with damp, or in my case soaking wet eyes, then you are in for a treat. The film does a fabulous job of covering not only what Fred Rogers did for decades of preschoolers, public broadcasting, and children's television programming, but why. Until I had seen the film, I actually didn’t know that Mr. Rogers was an ordained minister, in the Presbyterian church. Whose ministry was as an evangelist to children and their families through public television programming. While Rogers stayed within the confines of his secular role, never preaching one faith, dogma, or creed over another, he still preached an important message that he wanted to share with children and the world. Which was, you are deserving of love  and you are loved. The famous opening song to the Mister Rogers show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, truly encapsulated this. And, Mr. Rogers himself stated that these words, “Won’t you be my neighbor, were meant as “an invitation for someone to be close to you. Everyone longs to be loved,” Rogers says,” and longs to know that he or she is lovable… Consequently (Rogers goes on) the greatest thing we can do is let someone know that they are loved, and capable of loving.” 

This is exactly the message, I believe Jesus is preaching, as the lawyer tests him by asking what must you do to inherit eternal life . When the lawyer repeats back to Jesus the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." He takes it one step further, by asking but “who is my neighbor.” I’m not sure if the lawyer is continuing to test Jesus, being a smart aleck, or possibly asking the wisest question ever, but nevertheless, his question provokes one of the most famous parables found in our Gospels, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. And, while on the surface this parable appears as a simplistic call to help those in need, and possibly a commentary on the fact that lawyers always have the right answers, and you should never follow in the footsteps of a priest. The core message of our  parable, goes much deeper, revealing the fact that because we are created by a loving and kind creator, we are not only capable of sharing that same loving kindness with others, but also deserving of it in our own lives. 

As the priest and the levite pass the poor man who has been beaten and left for dead in a ditch, removing themselves from his needs by passing on the other side of the road. They are a reminder of the ways that our lives and our world, can keep us from seeing and responding to those in need. Some biblical commentators state that the priest and levite were unable to assist the man because, by rabbinic law, touching him would have made them ritually unclean, and unable to work for several days. But, at the same time they also knew the great commandment the lawyer repeated to Jesus, love your neighbor as yourself. In my eyes they are a reminder of how our culture, religion, race, socioeconomic status, whatever it may be, can blind us, or even protect us, from truly seeing our neighbor. 

As the Samaritan passes by we are told that he was moved with pity, and showed his neighbor mercy. Now the Samaritan may not have looked at this man as his neighbor, because the Samaritan, and the man in the ditch, who was a Jew, were from two separate feuding tribes, who fundamentality disregarded and disdained one another. But, in that moment, the Samaritan saw past their differences and through to this man’s deep need and right to loving kindness. 

As Mr. Rogers tried to address the pain and suffering that plagues our world, and possibly even find the light in the midst of the darkness, he said, “The only thing that ever really changes the world is when somebody gets the idea that love can abound and can be shared.” The story of the Good Samaritan is an invitation to remember that, we are all beloved children of God, no matter our religion, political party, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, no matter what. And, that as beloved children of God we are called to share that love, and we deserve it in return. Because that is the only way we are going to make it through this world together. 

At the end of the film, the viewers are asked to take a moment to ponder on this invitation from Mr. Rogers: “Think about someone who has helped you along the way. Think about those extra special people. Some may be right here, some may be far away, some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down you know they have always wanted what is best for you. They have loved you beyond measure. And have encouraged you to be true to the best within you.” 

These people, their love, that kindness, is the stuff we should hold close to our hearts, to remember, and to embrace. So, we can, in turn, share out of the abundance of love that we have received and give, to those around us and the world. 

Rev. Kate Byrd