Criswell: Won’t you be my neighbor?

It was 17 years ago — Feb. 27, 2003 — that Fred (Mister) Rogers passed. His TV show, beginning in the 1950s, has made a difference in thousands of children’s lives. (A movie starring Tom Hanks just came out about Mister Rogers).

His famous saying was, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” He was teaching all of us to be concerned for our neighbor by being nice and caring.

Two thousand years ago, an expert in the law asked Jesus in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?” (He had a lack of love for some people)

So who is your neighbor? Let me answer right up front. Your neighbor is anyone who is in need.

I just returned from Guatemala. It reminded me there are millions of people around the world who are in need — physically, mentally and spiritually.

It is estimated more than a billion people live at an “existence” level with regard to food, shelter and clothing, and certainly without God.

We have people right here in Clark County, people you go to school with, work with, even go to church with, who are in need. People who are crying out, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

From the story in Luke 10:25-37 we find two religious leaders who saw a wounded man and veered away from him to avoid him. They may have prayed for him, or made excuses like, “I’ll be late for my appointment,” or, “It’s too dangerous,” or, “We see too many like him. We can’t make a difference.”The story doesn’t tell us.

But then a Samaritan comes by. He has compassion. He took action. He binds up his wounds, loads him up in his Lexus or Camelack, and takes him to a hotel, checks him in, writes a check and says, “I’ll be back and pay you however else I owe you.”

So Jesus completes the story and turns to the man and to those listening and says, “I want all you to be just like that guy. I want you to have a heart like his. I want you to have a mind that thinks like his mind. I want you to have hands that get dirty and muddy once in a while by bandaging up wounded folks. I want you to be like that guy. Have I made myself clear?” (Criswell’s paraphrase!)

So why were the two religious leaders apathetic, and the Samaritan, who by the way hated Jews like this man, why would he have compassion?

It is a matter of the heart. Jesus made the point to expose all of us. It is possible to be religious and yet void of human compassion.

Jesus pulls the veil back on a little secret lots of church people don’t want to discuss. That is, much that goes on in the name of Jesus Christ had very little to do with Him.

A lot of folks do religion. Some do it to look well. Some do religion for power and control. Some people do religion to get rid of their guilt and shame. Some do it to get God’s attention.

The point Jesus was making is that a human heart should be deeply touched by human suffering and need, and if not, our hearts need to be opened and filled with the love of Christ.

I John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”

The religious leads walked on the other side of the street.

The Samaritan came close to the wounded man. He intentionally put himself close to the person in need. What you find out when you do get close to the hurting and those in need is that your heart tends to open up. Compassion flows out. (And boy, did Guatemala remind me of this.)

It is a matter of the mind.

Some of our hearts are working fine but we fall back into apathy because we go on a mental tilt because of the sheer magnitude of all the problems in Clark County and the world.

We look at pictures and hear the stories of millions who are in need and we think, “My $20 won’t help, so what’s the use? I think I’ll go to the movies or order a pizza.”

Helping this one man wasn’t going to lower the crime rate of Israel.

His act of compassion wasn’t going to start an international compassion wave.

Yet, he calmly reasoned that there were two who were going to be affected by his kindness. The man being helped, and God who sees all.

Sometimes we think if we can’t make a huge difference then it’s not worth doing anything. Not true.

My helping one person changes the world for that one person. So I tell people: Do for one what you wish you could do for many.

It is a matter of the hands.

In the parable Jesus told, the man used his hands. He bandages up the wounds of the person in need and he writes a check.

I want to challenge us all to get out of the life of apathy.

I want to challenge you to open up your heart to the poor and hurting.

Discipline your thinking that you can make a difference. Roll up your sleeves and get involved physically and financially.

Won’t you be my neighbor? Heart ready? Mind ready? Hands ready? Then, just do it. Somebody is waiting.

In Clark County, check out and get involved with Clark County Community Services, the Homeless Coalition, Habitat For Humanity, New Beginnings, churches with feeding programs like Ark of Mercy and Grace Bible Church; churches that help with addictions like Celebrate Recovery at Calvary Christian Church. Help in the schools. Help with Upward basketball.

Find a church and get involved.

Whit Criswell is pastor of Cornerstone Christian Church. He can be reached at or 859-621-9012.