Voices

Who is my neighbor?

Consider the unborn, the near-dead, and the easily forgotten

Issue: "What women want," Jan. 21, 2006

Given our technological age, it is easy in the midst of terminology debates to lose touch with everyday occurrences. And it is exactly at this point where the Good Samaritan parable answers the question aimed at Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

Today we might ask, "Is that shape on the ultrasound my neighbor?" I would say that the shape on the ultrasound is our most defenseless, vulnerable, and innocent neighbor. Then comes a follow-up question: "Shall I do for my unborn neighbor what I would have wanted done for me?"

Christ did not skip by the inconvenience involved in loving a neighbor. In the parable, all who passed by presumably had their reasons for ignoring the half-dead man. "I'm just way too busy right now." "What a mess. There's blood everywhere. I can't help in these clothes." "Sorry. Poorly timed. Tomorrow, yes; today, no." "Too expensive to help out here; I don't want to get in over my head."

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Loving neighbors is inconvenient. We all know that from experience. For one thing, neighbors are always there. Eventually we have to look them in the eye. And if the context of this parable-a discussion about eternal life-is to be taken seriously, then maybe there is a day when we shall have to look our unborn neighbor in the eye.

Neighbors can be bothersome. Consider this real-life domestic scene: I have just sat down to eat dinner with my family after a tedious day, and the doorbell rings. It's the neighborhood kids, and they want my wife and me to move our cars onto the street so that they can play basketball in our driveway. Poorly timed.

Loving neighbors may mean going beyond bothersome moments and accepting major inconvenience. But they're still neighbors. And it is to no one's benefit for me or you to ignore our neighbors, to cheat them, to expose them to hardship, to refuse them good when it is in our power to help-or to let someone take their lives.

Loving the unborn neighbor is hugely inconvenient. To be concerned for unborn children, to speak out on their behalf, to take a stance for life's sanctity against a culture of death, these things are not "cool." Being pro-choice is chic. Just the expression "pro-choice" has so much more panache in the modern ear. "Pro-life" sounds old-fashioned, anti-woman, not cool. And it is definitely inconvenient to be uncool. How many people make decisions about life issues not so much out of conviction as out of a desire to do what the cool people do? May truth with mercy triumph over "cool."

Another instance: To protect the unborn neighbor when it is inside your own body, perhaps knowing that the baby will be born a handicapped neighbor, means not just months but years of inconvenience and expense, whether for you or for others. But in any case, to do otherwise, to refuse that unborn neighbor good when it is in your power to help, is a crippling loss.

And the loss affects us all. Everyone loses when we start to define a particular human life as a non-neighbor. In Jesus' parable, the man on the side of the road, the one declared "non-neighbor," obviously loses. But everyone else in the parable does, too. For the interesting twist of Jesus' story is that, in defining as a non-neighbor the man who is dying at the side of the road, those who pass by cease to be neighbors themselves. And as it was then, so it is today: To define the unborn as a non-neighbor forces everyone to lose. Everyone is diminished.

This passage in Luke and its parable speak elegantly to life issues. They add to our life discussions the vocabulary of "neighbor." The unborn child, the near-death grandparent, the uncle with Alzheimer's: These are all your neighbors. And just as you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and being and strength and mind, so too you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

-Matt Ristuccia is a pastor in Princeton, N.J.

Matthew P. Ristuccia
Matthew P. Ristuccia

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