So the question is: Who is my neighbor? Who is your neighbor?
I grew up in the country. Our neighbors lived hundreds of feet from our house. Now, a lot of us live in neighborhoods where houses are close together, or apartment complexes where you’re kind of stacked in next to each other, and we think that those people are our neighbors.
In the Biblical sense, neighbor means my fellow man or my fellow mankind. Jesus spent a lot of time trying to help people understand who their neighbors were. He told a parable once about a guy who really wanted to be off the hook from loving people that he didn’t like, loving people that he had pre-judged.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road,” so he was a religious guy, “and when we saw the man he passed by him on the other side.” He didn’t want the trouble. “So to a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side.” So the religious leaders didn’t want anything to do with the injured man. “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was and he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘And when I return I’ll reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? And so the expert replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus said, ‘Go and do likewise.’
~ Luke 10:30-37 NIV
So when Jesus said go and love your neighbors, he wasn’t just talking about people of your ethnicity, of your religion, of your locality. He wasn’t just talking about a nationalistic viewpoint where I look after “my own” first. Jesus let it be known that we must cross cultural barriers, we must cross all kinds of barriers to love our neighbors on the other side of the road. We must do whatever’s necessary to love everyone.
James, in his epistle, tells us that if we fail to love our neighbor, that’s on the same level as committing murder or adultery. If I size someone up as not being my neighbor because of the color of their skin, or where they are socially or economically, I have blown it. I’ve missed the point.
So I want to challenge you today to go looking for some neighbors. To realize that the people in your neighborhood, yes, they’re your neighbors. But so are the people that are moving into town. So are the people you’re not comfortable with. So are the people who wear clothing that you’ve not seen before because they came from a different country and a different culture. So are the people that worship in an entirely different way, maybe even in a god that you don’t believe in. That they are still your neighbor and you can still love them.
Because Jesus loved you first, it’s possible to love all of your neighbors. You just have to know who they are.
Every person I’ve ever met is my neighbor.