Redefining Neighbor

I think we can all agree that there’s merit to being a good neighbor. We hope that we’d be described in this way and even more so that when things get hard, we’d act in a way that made those statements true.

In my own life, I’ve experienced and witnessed the love that comes from the hands of good neighbors, both domestic and foreign, so I think it’s important to strive toward a universal definition of the word neighbor, which can be hard. Most modern definitions have to do with physical proximity, but the Bible has something to say about that word too.

Jesus sought to expand the concept of neighbor to include non-Jews, which was challenging to many as Jewish practice had come to define neighbor as a Jew or proselyte to Judaism. For Jesus, a neighbor was anyone with whom you came into contact whether Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile.

This expanded definition led to the fall of Jewish barriers constructed around traditional interpretations. Through the parable of The Good Samaritan, we see that Jesus was asking us to see that there aren’t any limits to who we should show compassion and justice, and that we cannot exclusively exercise it for those of our own kind. Jesus challenges us to set aside cultural, physical, religious, and political divides and he commands us to walk across the road.

Most of us have come from immigrant families; we have roots and connections to other parts of the world. We need to fight against becoming desensitized to the oppression of neighbors and reject the idea of the other. There is no other, there is no alien, there are only neighbors.

Isolationism is not a godly virtue.

Being a good neighbor is seeing one who is in need and connecting your ability and your capacity to them. It’s opening your eyes to the places where you can meet those needs in a personal way, in order to bring healing and hope.

I’ve seen people who, for the first time, are faced with a human from a race and background foreign from theirs and all of a sudden, they’re changed. Once they become knowledgeable about that person’s struggles, as well as their hopes and dreams, their hearts break. The difference is seeing their humanity and understanding that they’re really not all that different from you.

I believe that we’re called to respond in a big way to others. I have come to accept that I can’t do everything, but I can do something to help the vulnerable and needy. I can be a good neighbor.

We need to ask if there’s a context where I can do something that will help a family, group, or individual in a less favorable state than myself, regardless of physical proximity, background, religion, country, or ethnicity.

We need to begin to see those who live in other parts of the world as our neighbors. We need to define them less by how different than or how far from us they are, but more by how God loves them. We need to shift our perspective of neighbor from earthly to godly and extend our hands out to all.