Neighbors All Around Us
Recently my wife Cynthia and I were out on our front lawn attending to some late season yard work. Bill, who lives across the street, walked over to us. He wanted to be sure we had heard the news about the tragic death of a young man who had been a teammate of our sons when they were in high school together. No, we had not heard, and we would have missed the opportunity to support a grieving family that we care about. We are grateful that Bill is such a good neighbor.
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18 tells us to love our neighbor. The New Testament quotes this verse nine times: six times in the gospels, and once each in Romans, Galatians, and James. Clearly this is a major biblical theme.
Jesus gives us deep insight into the theme of “neighbor” in his famous story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The prologue to the story is as important as the story itself. A certain man, a religious scholar, an expert in the law, wonders about inheriting eternal life. In the subsequent dialog with Jesus this man shows that he knows the words of Leviticus 19:18. But he doesn’t understand what they mean. He thinks the important question is “who is my neighbor?”
So Jesus tells his story about the man who is attacked by robbers and left for half dead along the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, from the man’s own people group, see him but walk on by. Surprisingly, it is the Samaritan, a despised outsider, who is filled with compassion and stops to help, at considerable personal cost to his time and resources.
Jesus never answers the question “who is my neighbor.” Instead, he illustrates what it means to be a neighbor. The religious scholar had the right knowledge. But he didn’t have the right heart. Whenever head and heart are not connected, integrity is compromised. Integrity is the union of belief and action, the joining of what we know to be right with what we actually do.
Don’t worry about who your neighbor is. Just be a neighbor. That’s the message of Jesus. Be a person who puts flesh on the important biblical mandate to love our neighbor. Like the Good Samaritan, be a person of compassion who shows mercy to others.
We never need wonder again who our neighbor is. Neighbors are all around us. In the house next door. In the cubicle next to us at work. In the hospital elevator. In a snow-filled parking lot with a car that won’t start. In our Vine and Branches store, perhaps speaking a language other than English. Jesus invites us to see every day as an adventure in being a neighbor. The opportunities are almost boundless.
The Christmas season reminds us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), or, as Eugene Peterson expresses so memorably in The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus, the good neighbor, the Son of God, loves us at considerable personal cost, so much so that he became one of us and sacrificed his very life.
May the Holy Spirit be at work in us so profoundly that we are inspired to be good neighbors, filled to overflowing with the compassion and mercy we see in Jesus.
David Lenz, Lead Pastor