We have lived at our current address for seventeen years. It is the longest we have lived in one house our entire married life. Yet, we are the "newbies" in our cul-de- sac! Needless to say, we all consider one another "good" neighbors. In fact, a few years ago, a neighbor four houses down had his propane tank explode on his back porch. Brenda, my wife, decided to help by running over with a fire extinguisher as his deck and house were being engulfed in flames. Well, it's the thought that counts.
In the gospel of Luke we read of a story where Jesus is confronted by an expert of the Law, and the following takes place:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25-29).
To respond to the question, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. I encourage you to read it if you have not or it has been a while (Luke 10:30-37). In this teaching moment, Jesus shows the expert of the Law who a "good" neighbor is. Samaritans had been looked down upon by the Jewish people for generations, yet Jesus allows for the questioner to answer his own question that yes, even a "Samaritan" is your neighbor.
Our neighbors are Polish, Thai, Greek, Scottish, WASPs, and across from our house (where Bears fans live) are "Packer cheeseheads" from Wisconsin (now you see how effective the comparison between a Samaritan and the Jewish is). We don't ask one another to provide a resume of qualifications for being "good" neighbors. We don't hesitate to help one another no matter the need. Ethnicity, language, color of skin, religious background, etc. do not disqualify any of us from being "good" neighbors.
As I am writing this article, I just heard that all the soccer team has been rescued in the flooded Thai cave! Great news! Yet there are still divers and a doctor in the cave who have yet to come out. As well, one Thai Navy Seal gave his life to rescue the boys and their coach. These people did not ask if the trapped ones were "good neighbors" or were worthy of even risking their lives to rescue them. In a way, they acted out the parable of the Good Samaritan!
If God's great commandment is to be lived out, I can't question which neighbor is a neighbor and which one is not. I can't discontinue being a "good" neighbor even if they do not reciprocate.
I am thankful the United Church of Christ has challenged congregations to be part of the "3 Great Loves Initiative." As we will be completing the first one — love of neighbor, I hope you continue to look for your "new neighbors" whether they are across the street, across town or across many miles. May each of us as people of faith and as part of this community of faith, reach out and extend God's love to our neighbor.