by Terry Sharp
From time-to-time I get a post card in the mail saying, “Choose Your Neighbor!” It’s from a local realtor sending listings of houses for sale on my cul-de-sac or elsewhere in my neighborhood. The idea is for me to tell my circle of friends and acquaintances about the available houses, thus allowing me to choose my neighbor.
Across many years of moving around the country and overseas, my family has been blessed with awesome neighbors. There was one family, in particular, that we really enjoyed. Our daughters were nearly the same age and they were in and out of each other’s houses all the time.
We also struck up a wonderful friendship with the parents, celebrating the holidays together and cooking out on the weekends. From time to time we even had water balloon battles with the kids. In fact, the water battles escalated to the point that we never knew what might happen when we answered the door or came around the corner of the house. It might be an invitation for coffee and tasting the latest kitchen creation, or to just hang out. But, many times we were greeted with a water balloon, a giant water cannon or a bucket of water. Of course, we reciprocated which meant, “Water Battle Game On!” What fun we had; those were great days until our neighbors moved away.
It is indeed enjoyable to have great neighbors. I don’t think Kathy and I can really say we’ve had any bad neighbors; although I’ve heard stories from friends who have. So, I understand the reason the realtor sends out her promotional post cards.
Most of us don’t really get to choose our neighbors. We may sometimes wish we could, but for most of us, that’s not an option. But just because we don’t choose our neighbors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be a good neighbor. In fact, I think most of us would agree that ignoring our neighbors just because we didn’t choose them is not a viable option.
There is a story in the Bible about being a good neighbor, found in Luke 10: 25-37; it’s the story of the good Samaritan. After Jesus affirms that he is to, “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 your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer, wishing to justify himself, asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Does the lawyer really not know who his neighbor is? What is he really asking? Does he want to know if it is okay to be a good neighbor to some, and ignore others? Does he want to know if “those people,” —meaning people who are not like him—are the people Jesus is talking about?
In telling the story of the man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead, Jesus relates how the priest and Levite both pass by, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the dying man. It is the Samaritan, the different one, who is filled with compassion and goes out of his way to minister to and make sure the man is taken care of—even paying for his care at a nearby inn. With this parable, Jesus challenges the lawyer’s idea of who his neighbor is and how they should be treated. Today, this same parable challenges our idea of who our neighbor is and how we should treat them.
It’s true, we don’t always choose who our neighbors are, but we do choose what kind of neighbor we will be.
Perhaps you are one who might honestly say that you would not have chosen the neighbors that surround you. In fact, they may even challenge a prejudice or political view you may hold. Even so, Jesus is very clear on who your neighbor is and how you should treat them.
Throughout the Bible, there are many scriptures that speak clearly on how we are to treat the foreigners among us. Leviticus 19:34 (NASB) tells us, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” The bottom line is God loves foreigners and provides for them. As Christ followers, how can we do anything less?
The question is simple: “Who is my neighbor? “ How you answer determines how you will respond to the current refugee crisis and the refugees coming to your city.
Will you ignore the refugee in need, like the religious people did in the parable to the man who had been robbed and left for dead, or will you respond like the Samaritan? Jesus, told the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” We should do the same.
Terry Sharp served as an IMB missionary in Spain and Brazil and then spent 10 years at the Tennessee Baptist Convention as a director—first in the language church planting department, and later in partnership missions. He has also served on the staff of numerous churches, the last as missions pastor. He presently serves the International Mission Board as State, Association and Diaspora Network Leader.
Follow him on Twitter: @TerrySharpimb