This week, I mobilized our rectory staff in order to find a parishioner who some weeks ago had been sick, but then left the hospital and probably went into rehab. The problem is, we know not where. We have no contact information for family members, and the HIPA laws make it illegal for even kindly disposed health workers to share such information. So we have been thwarted at every turn.
So Norma Thomas, ever on the job, went to the man’s house, where she found a neighbor outside, and asked after him. The neighbor responded, “I don’t know anybody [by that name].” Really? A next-door neighbor doesn’t even recognize his name?
There was an article in the paper last week that attributed the “polarization” in our nation now to the simple reality that there is so little association among actual neighbors, as climate controlled houses keep folks inside, cars get folks to and from home in separate bubbles, and everyone has the opportunity to associate only with those whom they choose, more and more often electronically, through social media or other technological means.
Heck, everyone knows how hard it can be sometimes to converse with someone who is even sitting directly before you at the table, if that person will not turn his attention away from his smartphone! So how can anyone expect to have a conversation with someone who lives in a whole other house?
Which leads me to the question: do you know your neighbors? Do you talk to them just because they are your neighbors? Do you knit together the fabric of community from the people who happen to be “in your community?”
It is not that I am worried that you will get sick, go to rehab, and we will not be able to find you (thought I certainly do not want that to happen.) It’s just that, well, I want you to be fully human. Why? Because you will be happier that way! And we discover the fullness of our humanity by being among (people).
What evidence do I have for such a blanket assertion? Well, Jesus Himself! He who emphasized and elevated the universal aspects of human existence (washing in water, eating bread, drinking wine, marrying a spouse, and all the others) did not omit our relationship with our neighbors.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-26, 28-37)
How better to know your neighbors, and be known by them? Go and do likewise, indeed!