I read yesterday that the hate-filled act Saturday was committed in the neighborhood in which Fred Rogers had lived. His home was three blocks from Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. It was there, in his Squirrel Hill home, where Mr. Rogers chose to die.
It was there, in this neighborhood, that Robert Bowers chose to take the lives of as many worshippers as he could. Eleven people died.
Two men. Two ways of living. Both basing their ways on Scripture.
Robert Bowers’ profile page included this bit of Scripture, commentary and doctrinal statement: “jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.” (Does he not realize that Jesus was a Jew?)
How many times do we see people use Scripture to justify hate or hateful actions? How much hurt has been inflicted on others in the name of Jesus?
Mister Rogers also included Scripture in his life. He followed Jesus and built his life on the love of Jesus, “…the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.” Mr. Rogers’ theological messages could be traced to Jesus’ idea of neighbor.
It was a radical idea. We find it in his story of the Good Samaritan.
It’s about being kind.
It’s about helping people in need.
It’s about sacrificing for others.
But it’s about SO MUCH MORE!!
It’s about loving instead of hating. It’s about:
being kind to,
helping people who,
the ones who are hated.
Robert Bowers hates Jews.
In Jesus’ day, Samaritans hated Jews and Jews hated Samaritans.
To the Jews, there was no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.” It’s like there’s no such thing as bad chocolate.
In the chapter before Luke’s record of Jesus’ story of neighbors and neighborhood, he writes about James and John suggesting to Jesus that they call down consuming fire from heaven on a group of Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus rebuked them. That’s not how Jesus rolls.
The very Samaritans the disciples wanted to kill, are held up in Jesus’ story as role models on how to live. The ones who were hated were the ones, Jesus said, had it right – had eternal life.
Jesus’ neighborhood is different.
Jesus told this story as an answer to a question posed by an expert in the Law of Moses: “Who is my neighbor?” At the end of the story, Jesus turned it around by asking the expert, “Which of these three (the two religious leaders or the Samaritan) proved to be a neighbor to the man in need?”
I’d love to have seen the look on the expert’s face as he had to state the obvious, “The one who showed him mercy (compassion).” The Message translates it like this: “The one who treated him kindly.”
Kindness. Mister Rogers invites us to dream: “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
In the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill we see two men. Two ways of living. Two ways of seeing and treating others.
Mister Rogers and Robert Bowers.
It’s easy to love Mister Rogers more than we love Robert Bowers. How would Mister Rogers treat Robert Bowers? Would Mister Rogers follow his own philosophy and help Bowers know that he is loved and is capable of loving? I think so.
A dear friend and wise woman gave me a note Sunday after service in which she said, “I am reminded daily that God loves the man who killed 11 Jews just as much as me.”
She’s a good neighbor.
I want a neighbor like that. I want to be a neighbor like that.