The Church and Mister Rogers

I can remember growing up hearing Mister Rogers singing, “Want you be my neighbor.” If you are familiar with his show, you may remember a quiet, compassionate, gentile, and loving older man who sought to invest himself into the lives of young children. Interestingly Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) was educated as a Presbyterian minister, thus probably one reason why he is known for his compassion, patience, and morality and his passion to change children’s television. Nevertheless, I cannot help but hear the simple words, “Want you be my neighbor,” and think of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan was provoked as a lawyer stood up to test Jesus saying, “What should he do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responding, tells him that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer looks at Jesus and says “Who is my neighbor?” Replying to the man, Jesus embarks on a parabolic journey. In this parable, a Jewish man heading towards Jericho fell victim to a robbery where he was robbed, beat, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite, who saw the man, passed by him “on the other side” (keeping their distance). I could imagine the poor beaten-down Jewish man in a loud-whisper, while grasping for breath, saying to those passing by, “Want you be my neighbor?” While his own countrymen and religious leaders passed him by, along came a Samaritan man. I also could imagine that the wounded Jewish man wouldn’t even have wasted his dying breath on the Samaritan—given the tensions between the two races. And Jesus preceded to tell the lawyer that the Samaritan man saw the wounded Jewish man and had compassion on him. In addition, Jesus says that the Samaritan “went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” And if those things were not enough, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper more money saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” The parable of the Good Samaritan was a radical story when Jesus told it, and it still proves to have the same radical nature two thousand years later.

When one loves God and accepts the mercy and grace that he offers, becoming his child, they cannot help but love others—others being their neighbor. There are those out there crying out in a high whispering voice, “Want you be my neighbor?” In other words, there are those around us crying out for help, for love, for attention, for answers, for a friend, for a family, for healing, or for peace. Essentially they are those crying out for mercy.

One of the goals of churches should be to so embed themselves in the community that they hear the high whispers of the community crying for a neighbor. The reason being is that when the Gospel is allowed to breath, it not only breathes new spiritual life to an individual and their reconciliation towards God, but also breathes new redemptive life in all facets and areas of life. Therefore, when a church embeds itself in a community and allows the Gospel to breath and take root in their midst, they will be a neighbor that: seeks racial, ethnic, and class reconciliation, expresses concern for the poor, widow, and orphan, aids the hurting and broken, and works to bring peace and shalom in tangible ways. In other words, they will answer the call to be a neighbor to the community. I think the default setting to many churches is to become an island within the community, inviting people to get in a boat and come over and join them. And what happens is that churches easily turn into the Levite and the priest, walking on the other side, and thinking to themselves, “I hope that poor boy is alright, and when he gets alright I would love for him to visit the synagogue. In the meantime I will pray for him.” The tangible outpouring of the proclaimed Gospel (that Jesus is king and invites people into his kingdom) works itself out in the public demonstration of his reconciling love, mercy, and grace towards others.

An objection to this mercy ministry is that these actions will soon trump the action of proclaiming the gospel and inviting people to respond to the gospel. While this is a valid question, I would respond and say that one cannot truly do mercy neighborly ministry without pointing to the Great Samaritan—King Jesus. The Bible expresses that God demonstrated his love for us at the expense of his only Son. When we understand that we all are victims of sin and death, which left us on the side of the road broken, damaged, distorted, and grasping for life; and that the Great Samaritan (Jesus) walked on our side, cleaned up our wounds, put us on his shoulders, carried us to safety, and gave us a new redeemed restored life—we cannot help but show and tell that to others. In short, loving others, loving neighbors, is not solely a verbal proclamation but a demonstrable expression.

Think about this, the church should be a community of people seeking to be a good neighbor in the name of their redemptive, healing, and restorative King. Scripture teaches that the community, or people, of God should “let [their] light shine before others, so that they may see [their] good works and give glory to [their] Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Elsewhere Scripture expresses that the people of God are to “Keep [their] conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against [them] as evildoers, they may see [their] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). Therefore, as God’s people seek to be a community that exhibits what a good neighbor is, they point to Jesus’ redemptive kingdom and should invite others to join their community where Jesus is Lord and King.

Here are three questions to consider in closing: (1) Do we see ourselves as the wounded Jewish man who was incapable of saving himself and that the Great Samaritan, Jesus Christ, came to our rescue showing us mercy? (2) Will we have the ears and eyes of our Great Samaritan? Will we hear the loud whispering cries of our neighbors, and rather than walking on the other side, will we go to where they are and demonstrate the redemptive nature of being a gospel neighbor? (3) What are some of the cries we should be listening for? Cries of the poor, the homeless, the abused; cries of the single parent, the widow, the orphan; cries of the addicted, the broken, the jobless, the oppressed; and cries of racial, ethnic, socio-economic segregation.

As Mister Rogers invited people to be his neighbor, will we be like our great God and be a merciful neighbor to those around us? There are those around us whispering loudly, “Want you be my neighbor?” May we have the ears to hear, eyes to see, and the hands to do what our Great Neighbor did!

* This positing was inspired by Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice—particularly chapter four.

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