The proverbial question of “who is my neighbor” can be found in Luke chapter 10 before Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Read it for yourself, but *spoiler alert* – everyone is your neighbor.
I felt compelled to write about this after having this concept of “neighbor” come up two different times this morning. One was in my “God of Creation” bible study book by Jen Wilkin; it is a study on the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Today I read about Cain being questioned about his brother Abel, and responding with, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the conclusion that Jen Wilkin has (and that I hope most of us would have) is YES – you are your brother’s keeper. Which then leads to the question: Who is my brother or sister (or neighbor)?
Another book where the concept of “neighbor” came up for today is called “How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds” by Alan Jacobs. I cannot say enough good things about this book – I think an entire post could be devoted to how awesome this book is. The part I read today talked about how easy it is to essentially treat people horribly when we don’t see them face to face. It’s easy to talk badly about someone when it’s a post on Facebook, or in a format where you aren’t really put in a situation to confront them. Look up the phrase “online disinhibition effect.” We start viewing people as “other” instead of “neighbor” (Jacobs, 2017, p. 82).
I think we are all guilty of turning our neighbors into “others.” And many of us are also probably guilty of saying something online that we would never dream of saying to a person’s face. If we really begin to think about the fact that EVERYONE is our neighbor, then it should convict us to to act better.
Luke 10: 27 – “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I think (let me know if you disagree) that many people would agree that the parable of the Good Samaritan implies that everyone is our neighbor. That seems like an easy statement to agree with. But let’s break it down a little. So, if everyone is my neighbor, that means all the people who live on my street and in my town are my neighbors. That means all the people in my country are my neighbors. That means all the people in every other country are my neighbors.
Let’s take it a bit further. That means that people you agree with are your neighbors. It means that people you disagree with are also your neighbors. People who write the most unbelievably nasty things about you or someone else on Facebook are still your neighbors. It means people committing horrible and even criminal acts are your neighbors.
Republicans are your neighbors. Democrats are your neighbors. Liberals and conservatives are your neighbors. Gay, straight, trans, and queer people are your neighbors.
Immigrants and their children are your neighbors. The administration currently keeping immigrant parents and their children apart are also your neighbors.
White supremacists are your neighbors. Hillary Clinton is your neighbor. Donald Trump is your neighbor.
Saying that someone is your neighbor doesn’t mean you agree with them or even like them. It means you recognize that they are a person, created in the image of God, and you know that God loves them and is asking you to love them, like He does.
Many of the groups and people I listed above are hard for me to love. I’m sure at least a few of those, when you read them, kind of hit you hard or even made you a bit repulsed when you thought about trying to love them.
Luke 6: 32-36 – “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
The next question for myself is a question of “how?” How do I love people that I don’t agree with, that I find repulsive, that I cannot understand their logic for their actions? How do I love someone even when I am 100% convinced that they are in the wrong? How can I love someone that is evil?
Again, loving someone does not mean you don’t disagree or confront them. It doesn’t mean you have to like them. It doesn’t mean you don’t stand up against things you think are unjust. But it means when we want to disagree or confront someone, or protest a person’s actions, that we need to think about how we can do that in a way that is still loving. How would Jesus respond to hateful posts on Facebook? How would Jesus treat people he knows are in the wrong? How did Jesus treat sinners?
Matthew 18:2-5 – He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Jesus said unless we become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. What has been so disturbing about the events of the past few days is that it involves innocent children. The kingdom of heaven belongs to these children. Children love with no boundaries, they love unconditionally.
Let’s take a lesson from our children, and from Jesus himself, and learn to love others the way children do. Let’s get rid of the hatred that has been stored up in our hearts for “others” and let’s search for love in our hearts for all of our neighbors.
Who is my neighbor?