(I wrote this a couple of years ago, but I’m not ashamed to recycle material)

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29 NAB)

A certain man was hitchiking from New York to New Orleans. Along the way, thieves ambushed him, stripped him of his clothes and money, and beat him, leaving him for dead.

A little while later, a certain evangelical was driving along the way. Seeing the man lying there in the ditch, he drove to the other side of the road, pretending not to see him, for lo, though he could have helped the man, he preferred to help the downtrodden indirectly, through charity and other tax deductable means. Besides, he was late for door-to-door witnessing, and Behold! The fields were ripe for the harvest — well — basically anywhere but there. For truly, handing out tracts is less messy than cleaning up blood.

Likewise, a clergyman of a conservative congregation drove by a short time later. He, too, passed by on the other side of the road, thinking to himself that the traveler had probably committed some egregious sin, and that he was suffering the just consequences. He, too, could have helped, for in truth, he wasn’t doing anything, but his people had never done anything like that, not wanting to risk being associated with someone’s apparent sin — even if they weren’t sure that someone was actually sinning. Better safe than sorry. However, his heart was not made of stone, and as he passed, he compassionatly yelled out his window, “Hey buddy! Eternity is too long to be wrong!”

Rolling up his window, he smiled to himself in a self-satisfied way as he adjusted the volume on his Christian radio station, knowing that, lo, he had planted a seed.

But a certain homosexual, who was a Unitarian-Universalist, came along soon thereafter. Seeing the traveler, his heart was moved, and he bandaged him, pouring over him antibiotics and wine. After loading him into the back of his Jetta, he took him to the nearest hospice and gave the admissions clerk his Visa card and told her, “Treat this man, no matter what it costs. When this card is maxed-out, contact me by cell phone, e-mail or MySpace. Verily, I also have Mastercard.”

Which of these was the neighbor to the traveler?