Who is my neighbour?


Scripture, Luke 10: 25-37 Nigel Bunce

Who is my neighbour? This question introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s the perfect Scripture for a baptism. Because the baptismal promises that we make on these occasions almost all depend on seeing the people we meet in life as “neighbours”, rather than “not neighbours”

What a great Gospel reading to have for Melissa’s baptism! The parable of the Good Samaritan bears directly on three of the baptismal promises we shall reaffirm in just a few minutes.

They are these.  Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? And, will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Love your neighbour as yourself

A lawyer (Pharisee) asked Jesus about eternal life. The answer involved the shema, which we call the “Hear, O Israel.” However, the ‘sting’ comes in the tail, like a scorpion. Only five words: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Question. Why does the shema include the words, ‘as yourself’?

Many years ago, a priest told me that he met many people whose main problem was that they did not love themselves. However, it’s not egocentric to love yourself. Instead, it means being comfortable in your own skin. Having an internal sense of self-worth. You need these qualities to show love to others.

But, Who is my neighbour?

However, the lawyer then asked, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ It wasn’t a stupid question. Put yourself in his position. Who were his neighbours? He’d probably say, the people living in his community. Perhaps, his professional colleagues. More generally, his fellow Jews.  Therefore, other people would be ‘not neighbours’.

Jesus didn’t put the man down and say that he was trying to weasel out with the question. He told a story.

The parable of the Good Samaritan

Bandits robbed a traveller (who was presumably Jewish). They left him for dead.  A priest and a Levite (a member of the priestly class both saw the injured man. However, neither helped him. Surely, you’d expect them to think of him as a neighbour. But no. Finally, someone offered him very generous help. However, he was a Samaritan. An outsider.

However, Samaritans had broken from Judaism centuries before. Jews and Samaritans despised each other. They were “not neighbours”. Hence, Jesus asked the lawyer, ‘Which of these people acted as a neighbour?’ The lawyer answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’

Neighbours and not-neighbours

So, who for us are “not neighbours”? An example. I’ve spoken often about the issue of remote Indigenous communities that lack clean drinking water. Something we take for granted. Suppose a water main broke on our next street. Surely, we’d immediately take jugs of clean water to our neighbours.

Therefore, why do we accept lack of clean water in these remote communities? Aren’t they Canadian neighbours? What about people starving in Eritrea? Too far away? Foreigners? Not neighbours? Like Samaritans? Thus, to respect the dignity of any other person, we have to see them as neighbours.

Later in this service we will sing he song, When I needed a neighbour were you there? The chorus includes these words. “The creed and the colour and the name won’t matter …” Don’t they matter? Or do they? It’s the difference between neighbours and non-neighbours.

Again, Who is my neighbour?

I began by posing three of the questions we are going to promise to do, “with God’s help”. Proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Loving your neighbour as yourself. Respecting the dignity of every human being.

However, the basis of each promise rests on the concept of what we mean by the word neighbour. Who is my neighbour?  Do we construe the question narrowly? Dividing the world into neighbours and non-neighbours?

Or, do we try to come to terms with the idea that all the world is part of God’s human family. Therefore, our task is to overcome prejudices. To recognize that all God’s family are supposed to be our neighbours.

The promise to care for Creation

Hence, we must recognize each perosn as a neighbour.  Then, it leads directly into the sixth baptismal promise. Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the Earth? Because, once we accept all our human co-inhabitants of our planet as neighbours, it’s a small step to giving everything else in Creation a similar status.

‘Who is my neighbour? and octopuses

With that, I’m going to veer off from baptismal promises to talk about something I read week ago in the Globe & Mail. Octopuses. Erin Anderssen’s article is about the ethics of farming octopuses for meat. 

However, what caught my interest something else.  Research into octopus biology and behaviour. Unlike vertebrates, from fish to primates, octopuses evolved completely separately from us, 600 million years ago.

Sentience in octopuses

However, recent research suggests that these cold-blooded creatures posses a high degree of intelligence. Peter Godfrey-Smith wrote this. “If we can make contact with [octopuses] as sentient beings, it is not because of shared history, not because of kinship. But, because evolution built minds twice over.” 

In other words, completely independently. Laboratory-raised octopuses can exhibit playful behaviour. Some choose to play with an empty pill bottle in the water. Others choose not to. They can even decide to like or dislike members of the lab staff.

An example. One octopus took a dislike to one particular technician and would squirt water at her neck at high velocity every time she passed the tank.

The movie My octopus teacher features footage recorded off the coast of South Africa. Including, a sequence in which an octopus escapes being eaten by a shark. The octopus attached itself by its suckers to the shark’s back. Hey presto. Seemingly, the shark’s dinner disappeared. That implies intelligence of a high order.

Is an octopus my neighbour?

So, who is my neighbour?  I thought of calling this homily, “My neighbour is an octopus”. However, I decided that would be a bit too cutesy. Therefore, I stuck with, Who is my neighbour?Amen.