In Luke 10, after sending the 72 out on an evangelistic mission, Jesus teaches about neighborly conduct. In Jesus' understanding, being a neighbor is, or at least opens the door for, the mission.
Yet, we often would like to take the evangelistic mission without the charge to be a neighbor. After all, does it really matter? If we preach or teach and the person makes a decision, isn't that enough? But it was this mindset that Jesus challenged when he taught about being a neighbor. When we seek to justify our behavior we have missed Jesus' mission. Being a neighbor means being proactive and involved--the Samaritan used his time, resources, and money to help someone who, under different circumstances, would have been an enemy. We are encouraged to go and do the same.
Peter Lovenheim wrote an interesting book called In the Neighborhood. After hearing about a neighborhood family involved in a tragedy (a murder-suicide while the children were still in the house), he realized that he did not know the family and that likely no one in the neighborhood did. This realization set him upon a goal of creating a community within the neighborhood he lived in, to enable and help physical neighbors become real neighbors to each other.
The book is very enjoyable and a quick read. Lovenheim sought to learn more about his neighbors by spending more time with them, even including sleeping over at their homes! As he began to meet his neighbors more he began to become aware of needs and he was able to make neighborly introductions between neighbors.
One neighbor he met had cancer. He realized that to be a neighbor to her he was going to have to help her. One chapter is devoted to this quest. In that chapter, he states that "the real measure of success of my whole effort [to neighborize the neighborhood] would be if someone who previously did not know Patti...woud join me in helping her out. If that could happen...we would have a real community" (204). Thanks to Lovenheim's work, it did happen. Patti and several other neighbors connected and Patti did not have to struggle alone.
I really enjoyed this book. It left me with several ideas I am thinking through:
- Being a neighbor to others is hard work. It takes time and sacrifice to get to really know someone. We cannot be real neighbors to people we see simply on a casual basis. (Wake-up call to churches here--if we spend only an hour a week with each other, and most of that in passive listening, how are we being a neighbor to each other?)
- It takes dedication and persistence. Once we have sacrificed time and made a real effort to get to know someone, it takes time and effort to maintain the relationship! Sometimes, we may have to call a neighbor whose mail appears to be piling up. We may need to finish mowing our yard and then spend another hour at an elderly neighbor's mowing hers. This is what we're called to when we embark on a goal of being a neighbor to others.
- It is more than merely "being nice." We are not a neighbor to someone simply because we say "hi" when we're both out collecting our mail. Being a neighbor is a mindset; we need to be thinking and acting neighborly to actually be one.
"If we all cared about our neighbors, we could change the world one street at a time" (236).
Let us go and do likewise.