Who is my Neighbour?
I live in a battle-axe block. There are four houses in close proximity to mine with many people living in each. I have a lot of neighbours – none of whom I know particularly well. I know that the lady out the front loves gardening. I know that there’s a grumpy man in House Number 2 who doesn’t like having the bins in his driveway. I know that the man in the house out the back has dogs that bark all night. Sadly, I assume that they would know even less about me, as our relationships consist of a smile and a wave as I drive out the driveway each morning. It’s safe to say that I am not a particularly involved, or should I say “good” neighbour.
In Luke 10, an expert in the law attempts to trick Jesus by referring to scripture which says, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. He asks Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’, and Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Through the telling of this story, Jesus confuses everyone around him. Not only does he challenge racial and class norms by placing the Samaritan in the position of “good guy”, he has the audacity to frame the religious elite – the Priests and the Levites – as the bad guys in the story. Jesus is turning society’s understanding of what it is to care for someone else on its head. He is establishing a completely new system of society – a system where another person is worthy of compassion and love purely because they are a human being.
According to Jesus’ parable, those with “neighbour” status do not consist only of those living in houses either side of yours. The “neighbour” circle does not even stop at the limits of your suburb or your state, or of your Corps’ zone. Our “neighbours” are anyone within tangible reach of our compassion.
Unfortunately, a quick look at many Christians and indeed at the Church today would suggest that we are aligned with the expert in the law. Many of us have reduced “loving our neighbour as ourselves” to “loving our family and friends as ourselves” or “loving our Corps members as ourselves”. It is easy for us to “love as ourselves” those whom we love anyway.
While The Salvation Army has a reputation for offering compassion and love to those outside our own families who present themselves as needing help, we often forget about those who don’t present themselves. We often forget that we have neighbours who may not be a part of our direct sphere of influence.
So who is your neighbour today? Is the lady living across the street, grieving her husband, your neighbour? Yes. Is the homeless teenage boy that you see on your way to work, who is consistently smoking pot, your neighbour? Yes. Is the Mormon who approaches you on the street, or the gay student in your son’s school class your neighbour? Yes. Are those experiencing turmoil and hurt in war in Syria my neighbours? Yes, yes and yes!
As Christians who are called to love our neighbours, we are called to love anyone within tangible reach of our compassion. In a world that is constantly shrinking due to technological advances, our capacity to reach others is greatly increased. Praise God that His limitless and boundless love can flow through us to so many others!
We have local neighbours and global neighbours. We have geographically near neighbours and we have emotionally near neighbours. The list of those who are my “neighbours” is limitless. In identifying your neighbours, start small. Look at your local area and identify those who may need to feel the love of God in their lives today. Then think a bit bigger – who are those on the outer of your Corps family? Who are those on the outer of the society in which you live? Who are those on the other side of the world whose experiences resonate with yours or to whom you have something to offer? The capacity to love in this “global neighbourhood” is limitless.
So, as I step outside my front door to ask the lady in the Front House about her garden, I will reflect on what makes me a good neighbour. Good neighbours are informed about those issues which affect others. Good neighbours pray intelligently, advocate for those who can’t stand for themselves, give money strategically and live justly.
Good neighbours love greatly, without exception.
 The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission, Jesus and Justice, p. 25.