Holding the real print copy of the NY Times in my hands last week at the George Fox library, the front page article on Haiti drew my attention. It was part of their ongoing coverage of the aftermath of the great earthquake ( oh yeah its not over and the country is not back to normal whatever normal means in Haiti). Six months later only 28,000 of the 1.5 million people displaced by the earthquake have moved into what generously might be called houses. The picture on the front page showed a busy Port au Prince street with a median strip that was filled with flimsy shanties, one after the other, as the traffic whizzed by on either side. These "homes" fortified by rubber tires to keep cars from crashing into their shelters as they slept were right in the midst of the nightmare that is Port au Prince traffic. All day long vehicles rumble by, blaring horns, raising dust, belching exhaust; many vehicles have run into the homes, hit pedestrians who have to cross the street to get to the bathrooms, and even killed some people. It is rare that anyone stops to offer help. "Don't they have a heart?" one resident of the median strip homes asked. She was covering her children with a floral shirt because the diesel fumes were intolerable.
The Good Samaritan story. That is what came to mind. People passing by other people who were victims. A victim of a mugging in the story Jesus told. What are the median strip people victims of? Bad luck, inept government, callousness, selfishness, forgetting.... We all pass by. Out of sight, out of mind. The victim in Jesus story is unnamed. So are the median people, just images in a photo. In the crowded city of Port au Prince, most of them are unknown to those who pass by every minute of every day. And what would a person do who stopped. What help would they offer. What would the pastor and Bible scholar do if they stopped? They are not trained EMTs. What if their help made matters worse? What if they were sued when their help left the victim in more serious condition? If they had cell phones, they could have called 911. Maybe they notified the authorities when they got to their destination. Jesus does not say they were bad men. Just that they passed by. They had other things on their minds; they did not want to make matters worse. Jesus does say this: They were not good neighbors. They left the Greatest Commandment unfulfilled.
That was the original question. The religious scholar wanted to know what he had to do to make sure he had eternal life. Jesus asked him how he interpreted the law. The man knew the heart of the law and Jesus said so. Go and do it, Jesus said. But the man lingered. He had a question. Just who is my neighbor he asked. Definitions. The need to be precise. What exactly are the limits of my responsibilities here. Too bad Jesus does not give definitions. So we can know exactly what we are supposed to do. He tells stories. There it is. The story of the Good Samaritan, the one who did not pass by, the one who fulfilled the Greatest Commandment, the one who was a neighbor.
And people keep passing by that median strip. Thousands a day. Worlds away I pass by too. How can I be a neighbor?