Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who are our neighbors?

Proper 10C (Post 1)

This week’s Sunday lectionary Gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37), the Good Samaritan story, ends with these words:

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.”

Jesus teaches that anyone whose life touches ours, anyone with whom we might share compassion in some way, is our neighbor. We are directly and consciously connected with people all over the globe in ways that would have been unimaginable to people in Jesus’ time.

What we do in our corner of the world affects people in other places. If we pollute a stream or river, it affects our neighbors downstream. If a corporation filters the emissions from a factory so that less mercury is released into the air, it helps the people in the neighborhood of the factory, the people who breathe that air. The fertilizers and pesticides we use on our lawns, the emissions from our cars and trucks, the plastics and remnants of household chemicals that find their way into our trash all have the potential to affect our neighbors in a negative way. When we reduce or eliminate these things out of consideration for others, we are better neighbors, true neighbors.

A new report from the World Bank released last month, Turn down the heat: climate extremes, regional impacts, and the case for resilience, looks at the effects of climate change on Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and South Asia. Some of the poorest people in the world will be hit first and worst by increasing warming. In many cases, the people who stand to suffer the most from global warming are the people who have done the least to cause it. Those of us with big carbon footprints have more resources at our disposal to cope with climate change, at least in the short-term; we also bear more responsibility for it. Expectations for Africa are summarize in this short video from the World Bank:

Because of our relationship with our companion Diocese of Twic East, we know some of the people expected to bear the brunt of climate change in Africa. We act as neighbors when we help with development in areas such as agriculture and education and when we remember them in our prayers; they act as neighbors to us when they help us understand what is happening in their part of the world and keep us in their prayers. Since we have done much more to cause climate change than they have, acting as neighbors entails working hard to mitigate climate change.

Jesus chose the illustration of the Samaritan as the good neighbor to help us understand that our neighbors are not only the people who live nearby and whose way of life, language, and religious practices are the same as ours. Our neighbor is anyone with whom we can share compassion, anyone whose lives touch ours.

The Samaritan went out of his way to help. He stopped his own journey long enough to tend to the beaten man’s wounds, he found a safe place for him to heal, and he paid out of his own pocket for someone to continue caring for him. It wasn’t convenient, and like the priest and the Levite, he could have found an acceptable reason to do nothing. Because he went out of his way to help, he was a neighbor to the man in need.

Our greenhouse gas emissions have created a change in climate for the entire planet. By working to cut those emissions significantly and quickly, we can be neighbors to others affected by our actions. We know we could find all sorts of acceptable reasons not to act, because most of us have done that for years. By setting aside our own short-term convenience, we can be the ones who show mercy, the neighbors in the story of 2013.

(Post 2 on Sunday will look at the question of who is healed when we share compassion.)