And who is my neighbor . . . the one who showed him mercy. (Luke 10)
In the Gospel of Luke, when the lawyer asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and love his neighbor as himself. Still not satisfied, the lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is?
Jesus responds by telling the parable of the good Samaritan and concludes by asking the lawyer which of the three who passed by the man who was robbed was a neighbor to him. The lawyer responds by saying that the neighbor to the man was the one who showed him mercy.
Jesus responds: Go and do likewise.
What does it mean to go and do likewise in our world today? I am thinking of that today as I sit in Indonesia and watch the violence unfold in Gaza. What does it mean to be a neighbor to people when violence, poverty and unemployment are constant threats to families and 80 percent of the population is dependent on aid? What does it mean to be a neighbor to people when they honestly don't know if they will see tomorrow? What does it mean to be a neighbor to these people when they are suffering, at least partially because of the policies of my own government?
Several weeks ago, I was in Guatemala for an alternatives to migration learning tour. The group had ample opportunities to see how MCC is working with its partners to help people develop more sustainable livelihoods like harvesting flowers to sell across the border in Mexico or growing trout as an alternative food source, all so that families can stay together and fathers and children did not need to leave their families for weeks at a time to go to the cities to earn money, to go to Mexico to work in the coffee fields or to travel even further north to the United States so that they can work and send money back home to support their families.
In Guatemala, virtually 10% of the population is living outside the country, most in the United States, sending back home $4.7 billion each year, the single largest source of revenue in the Guatemalan economy.
One day, we traveled across the border into Mexico to see first hand the results of this pull of migration to earn money to send back home. In Mexico, one of the main ways people from Central and South America travel north is on the tops of the trains. This is a very dangerous way to travel and many fall off the trains, some hurting themselves very badly.
We met Olga Sanchez Martinez (the woman in the middle in white in the photo above of the learning tour group) who now runs Albergue del Buen Pastor, the hostel of the good shepherd, for migrants recovering from train accidents.
Olga told us that when she first saw these migrants in need, she helped one man and then she took five home, and then five more, until she had 20 people in her home. She was eventually able to build a facility that can house 50 people who need her help.
Who is my neighbor? For Olga, it is clear. People nearby who needed her.
For Christians, wherever they are, our neighbors are the people around us in need. That's true in Indonesia, in Gaza and in our communities wherever we live. We can be a neighbor by showing mercy to the one close by or to people further away.
Loving God and loving our neighbor, Jesus is telling us, are the keys to experiencing the fullness of life. I am finding it is as difficult for me to learn this as it must have been for that lawyer who confronted Jesus.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee in the United States