So, Who is My Neighbor?
Last week, you may have read my first article in this series on social justice. If you did, you know that when asked what the Lord requires of us, the Bible records a pretty straightforward response, to
“Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (
Mikah 6:8). I discussed how walking with God toward justice may not be as hard as you think. It starts with Jesus’ greatest commandment:
to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself
(Mark 12:33). Jesus said to “do all that” ….and you will walk humbly with your God. Lots of love required, huh? Absolutely. So, who are these neighbors we’re to love?
Fred Rogers, known to most as Mr. Rogers, asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” and talked about the “neighborhood”. Anyone who watched him knows that his talk and actions regarding “neighbors”, weren’t limited by what we typically think of as a neighborhood. Neighbors weren’t limited by geography, although, as a child, in my mind my “neighborhood” was narrow. As I grew and moved from my city, from my state and from the west coast to east coast, my neighborhood continued to grow from Alaska to Puerto Rico and beyond. As an international lawyer, my neighborhood became global, with friends from Australia to Zambia and in all corners of the globe. With technology all of us can communicate internationally as easily as we can with our friends in the house next door. Telecommunications has brought us all closer and made all of us global citizens. But are we all neighbors? Let’s see what Jesus says.
When Jesus was asked who our neighbors are, he told the story of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 25-37). We know the story of the Israelite who was injured, lying in the street, beaten, bloodied and robbed. A priest and a Levite hurried by, pretending to not see the pained man. They had things to do and places to go. They didn’t have time to care for this man, especially because that could make them “unclean”, causing further inconvenience and delay. They crossed the street. But a man Jesus said was a foreigner, the Samaritan, an enemy of the Israelites, without hesitation risked stopping to help this Israelite. He not only stopped, but he acted at significant personal cost, paying for the man to be cared for until he returned. Think about that. The Samaritan had places to go too, but he knew helping this stranger was more important than his plans for the day. He stopped, bore the inconvenience, took the risk and paid for the care. He did all that for a man foreign to him, who likely at the time would be considered his enemy. When Jesus told this story, he asked who was the neighbor?
The Samaritan’s actions show that he didn’t define "neighbor” as someone from the neighborhood. Jesus says they were foreigners to each other, and they were strangers who should fear each other. They had probably never met, but the Samaritan saw the injured man and acted as his neighbor. As neighbors, one offered care and the other accepted that care, literally putting his life in the hands of the Samaritan. Both acted despite fear, and both took risks. Jesus says we should do the same.
Today we are learning a lot about neighbors, even during or maybe because of the Covid 19 pandemic. We know that the virus knows no boundaries. No country can contain it alone; if it’s in any country it will spread to all countries, so “foreigners” must work together to eradicate it. Even if the US finds a solution, those of us in the US are still at risk if our neighbors in countries near and far don’t also have a solution. Additionally, we need to look globally for solutions, not just because boundaries are irrelevant, but because we need the minds and thoughts of all neighbors working together on solutions that work for everyone. Like so many situations in life, we can’t do it by ourselves.
This pandemic has strongly reinforced the fact that we truly are all global citizens. We all need the care of others; from strangers and foreigners we haven’t met. Therefore, neighbors aren’t limited by geography, race or religion. Our neighbors include those who need our help and, like the injured Israelite, folks we depend on for assistance. Neighbors are those called to help, even if there is risk and cost.
We are all tempted to look the other way, cross to the other side of the street, and not act. We’re all busy and to act might slow us down on what we think is more important just as the priest and Levite did. Let’s not limit who we see as neighbors and how far we reach to help others, even if that neighbor has been a stranger, a foreigner, who we’ve feared. As you care for others you will feel blessed and strangely, you will know that you are walking humbly with your God. What could be more awesome than walking with God? In coming weeks, we’ll look at what that walk might look like.
For now, do you want to learn more about our neighbors? You can join us in learning what opportunities are offered by Crossroads and the United Methodist Church to do just that. Right now, the UMC is offering a series of weekly webinars on how Covid 19 has made it impossible to not see the injustices inherent in our systems and how our neighbors need help. Join with us and you will learn about your neighbors. Cross the street and take the risk. I promise it will be worth it. The link for the series is
Check it out, register and join us in learning.