“Pa,” young James asked, “how can I love my neighbor?”
The candle flickered in the draft from the January wind invading the cabin, piercing the post-suppertime darkness like a beacon.
His father took a long draw from his pipe and looked up from his month-old newspaper. In 1805, it took the papers from back east a while to make it to the southeastern part of the Illinois territory. “Mighty big question from such a small boy,” he smiled.
“Teacher said we’re s’posed to love our neighbor, but we ain’t got no neighbors. Tommy’s house is more than a mile down the road.”
“Glad to know you’re listenin’ when Teacher speaks,” Pa nodded, once again engrossed in his paper. “Although he could work on your grammar a bit….”
James pulled down Pa’s paper and looked him in the eyes. “Even if Tommy was my neighbor, how can I love him? He’s so mean, I don’t even like him most times.”
Father could see that James was troubled, so he put his paper down and scooted his chair closer to the fire.
“Well, son, I guess that depends on who you’re callin’ a neighbor.” Father reached for the Bible on the table beside his chair. “If’n you give it some thought, seems like everyone you come in contact with’s your neighbor, in a sense.”
Pa was sure some of this was going over his 8-year-old’s head, but Pa continued.
“Jesus said a man you don’t even know, maybe not from these parts, with a broke-down buggy on the road to that new ferry at Cave-in-Rock – well, he’s your neighbor. What’s it look like to show him love?”
Pa looked over his shoulder at James, who was leaning on an elbow, deep in thought. “Don’t know, Pa.”
“You stop and help him out, even if he ain’t got money to pay you. Don’t matter what he needs – food, money, help fixin’ his buggy, a place to stay, someone to talk to. Just help get him back on his feet.”
“But Pa,” James asked, “what if you need your money to buy your own supplies down at the store? And what if stoppin’ makes you late for supper? Won’t Ma get mad?”
“Well, son, that’s how you know it’s love,” Pa said, throwing some wood scraps on the fire. “Givin’ somethin’ you don’t have to give, doin’ somethin’ you don’t have to do for someone else, expectin’ nothing in return — that’s loving your neighbor. Don’t matter who it’s for.”
Pa’s explanation of the truths of Luke 10:25-37, in terms a young boy on the frontier of 1805 America could understand, still ring true today.
FYI, you can still ride the Cave-in-Rock ferry from Illinois across the Ohio River into Kentucky, which has been in continuous operation since 1803.