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Who is My Neighbor?

August 29, 2014

I’ve always been intrigued by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  Jesus is confronted by a lawyer (at least he is called that in the ESV) and asked about eternal life.  In response he gets the fellow to quote from the Old Testament, including the charge to “love my neighbor as myself,” the title question above.

Actually the question is quite logical.  If you truly wanted to obey the command, which the text implies he does not, it is only fair to ask for clarification as to who you are supposed to love “as yourself.”  Jesus, of course, does not answer this question but rather, through parable, points to the real question which is, in essence, “Am I a neighbor?”  The neighbor in the story is a despised Samaritan; even a lawyer could see that. (Heh.) 

In our church culture today there is a lot of talk about neighborhood and community.  We hold “neighborhood outreaches.”  We form communities and live, work, worship and minister in them.  Just this week I was in a stimulating discussion as to whether an online worship community can serve the same function as a physical church community.

But if we work on the assumption that neighbors in the question above are in our community it means that, in this day, the question “Who is my neighbor?” is more complex than it used to be.  Frankly, we have all sorts of “neighbors.”  We have:

  • Physical neighbors; those that live near us.
  • Church neighbors; those we worship with.
  • Work neighbors; those we work alongside.
  • Facebook or other internet neighbors; those we are close to online.
  • School neighbors; those we relate to through our children’s schooling.
  • Common interest neighbors; those with whom we share hobbies, burdens or passions.

The list could go on and on.  In many cases we are much closer emotionally to some of these other sorts of neighbors than we are to the people next door.  So when I feel called to reach my neighbors, who am I supposed to target? 

All too often evangelical churches zero in on physical neighbors.  We are urged to do neighborhood outreach to those next door or even those next door to the church.  Fine, I am OK with that as an option.  But this misses the point of Jesus’ answer.  It is not about deciding who to love, it is about being loving.  Jesus seems to not care one whit as to the target of our love but care very much about our attitude.

If you start to list the kinds of neighbors, the people you are close to, you will quickly tie yourself in knots if you assume that everyone on the list is a neighbor and you need to reach them all.  You might find yourself feeling guilty about not loving all the people within eyeshot of your home, everyone at work, all your Facebook friends, business associates, etc. enough to “reach them with the Gospel.”

The Samaritan ministered to a total stranger with an act of incredible, over-the-top kindness.  But the parable didn’t teach that as a methodology; it taught an attitude.  It really would be cool if this story, or the entire Bible for that matter, was an instruction book listing exactly what we were supposed to do.  But God seems so much more focused on who we are than the specifics of what we do.

When I ponder that it is actually pretty exciting.  Who knows what, as I go out the door today, I will (a) stumble into, (b) deliberately encounter, (c) be led by the Holy Spirit into?  (Pick your favorite way of describing it.)  All I need to do is keep my eyes open as ask myself how I can be a neighbor today.


From → Christianity

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