The late, great Fred Rogers treated everyone like a neighbor. When Mister Rogers extended the invitation, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” he was genuinely humanizing each of us and modeling the behavior of a loving neighbor. It was the same model of love the Good Samaritan offered in the Bible. This standard of behavior is hard. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”– Fred Rogers
I have an affection for the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, we learn the answer to the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story about three men who passed a fellow man beaten, bloody, and half-dead on the side of a road. The first two were Jewish religious types, a priest and Levite, that just passed the man by. They didn’t even stop to check to see if he was alive. The third was a Samaritan, a person from a group of people who were half-Jew and half-Gentile and who had very strained relations with the Jewish people. In fact, they hated each other. Nevertheless, the Samaritan did not think twice about who the injured person was and took pity on him. He bandaged his wounds, placed him on his donkey, and took him to an inn to care for him. The next morning, he paid the innkeeper to look after him until he returned. Mister Rogers might say, “He saw the need and responded.“
The parable concludes with a question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the injured man?” The answer is the Samaritan, “The one who had mercy on him.” That is what it means to be a neighbor. And then Jesus gives a command, “Go and do likewise.”
That story tugs on my heart and makes me want to teach what it means to love like a neighbor. It motivates me to “go and do likewise.” And it begs my question to you, “Won’t you help me grow neighborly love?” We can be the people Mister Rogers referred to as his heroes, those who see the need and respond.
If you choose to accept this assignment, know it is a front-line assignment. It won’t be easy. We need to represent God (and Mister Rogers) well. We need to lead and serve with enthusiasm and not grumble. Grumbling is always toxic. It is God’s will to be thankful. Therefore, we shall execute this “neighborly love” assignment with an attitude of gratitude.
The job description of the assignment is this: Co-worker with God to labor together in the joyful business of serving our neighbors with care, compassion, and love and to share in the responsibility and say, “It is my problem.“
In America, we believe “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The trap of the pursuit of happiness, however, is to think that happiness will arrive with the pursuit of more: more toys, more money, a bigger house, an expensive car. The answer to true happiness is not bigger and better, but simpler and more grateful. By not coveting what our neighbor has, we are freed from pride and envy to freely see a need and respond to a neighbor in love.
The secret to happiness is to want what you already have. Then you are free to pursue the one worthy quest that unlocks the key to neighborly love in your heart, the pursuit to go deeper in your relationship with God.