There is a theme in our church this fall. All fall we have been talking about our neighbors and our neighborhoods. I have been trying to take this theme to heart, myself. Since Peggy and I moved into our neighborhood, I have tried to be friendly, but this fall since I was preaching about Neighbors, I have been more intentional about being a good neighbor.
We have a new lady several blocks away who is widowed and we stopped to greet her and get acquainted. She sold her house north of Boston and moved to her cottage. I think it is has been a big transition. We have invited her to the church’s knitting group so she could meet others. More recently, we tried to give her some names of people who like to play cards. We hoped that this would make her feel more connected.
In the Bible, Jesus told his disciples to love their neighbors and treat them the way that they wanted to be treated. The words were no sooner out of his mouth than an attorney popped up from the crowd that day and asked Jesus, “How exactly do you define neighbor?” We can laugh heartily at lawyer jokes but what I love about lawyers, and this one is no exception, is that they find the sticking points in life. They discover the places where the rubber hits the road. They push Jesus to explain not just what it means to be a neighbor but who we should regard as our neighbors. Exactly who are we supposed to treat as we want to be treated?
Gustavo Gutierrez is a theologian who has written about the Good Samaritan. Let me paraphrase his words -
Who is my neighbor? The neighbor was the Samaritan who approached the wounded man and made him his neighbor.The neighbor is not the person I find on my path, but rather the one in whose path I place myself…the one I approach and actively seek.
Who is in our daily path and who is not? That is part of the problem. We are limited in loving our neighbors if we only walk on a narrow path. Then we just worry about our immediate neighbors, our people, those we consider like us. Jesus keeps challenging us to go outside the boundaries of our normal paths to find people who widen our perspective and may even test our definition of neighbor.
I was feeling pretty good about my neighborliness until I read Gutierrez in an article entitled, “Who is My Neighbor?” in Sojourner Magazine (November 2019). It made me wonder about how to be the kind of neighbor who keeps deliberately placing myself on new paths, so that I might meet neighbors outside my own more insulated route.
Maybe I will be walking my dog to new sections of the neighborhood to meet new people who are further afield. But maybe I will also be considering whole new places, different neighborhoods where God might be calling me to explore. It’s a big world out there.