Who is my neighbor?

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

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’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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The point that Jesus is trying to emphasize is a widening concept of the term neighbor. In an overly religious setting the walls of ‘neighbor’ were defined very strictly. Jesus steps in to say that anyone in need, no matter what differences you have, is a neighbor in need of God’s grace and your concern.

And this thought has called, encouraged and sent Christian missionaries around the world for hundreds of years. We have concluded (rightly) that anyone in need is our neighbor. We have taken Jesus’ message to heart.

But in our zeal to fulfill this call we have forgotten something that is hugely important to Jesus: our actual neighbors.

Picture your house, apartment or living quarters. Make a grid like a tic-tac-toe board and put yourself in the center.

If each section of the grid were a neighbors house, could you list the eight closest people that live next to you? What else do you know about them? Can you list everyone in the house? Are they more than casual acquaintances; would you actually consider them friends?

The times I’ve done this have shown that less than 50% of people can name a majority of people around them and very few can name all eight. The speaker this last weekend shared similar results.

In our Christian passion to share our faith with the whole world we have forgotten those that live immediately around us. We have become blinded by going to all the world that we have forgotten the immediacy of those around that need to hear about Jesus.

This is one reason I push missional theology. It forces us to wrestle with the way we think of “Christian missions.” The job isn’t always ‘to go’ to exotic places and eat different food. Sometimes Christ’s call is to stay and be with those he has put around us. It’s to know about Bill and Brenda. Have them into your home and be more than fence sharers, be real neighbors. Love them into the Kingdom.

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Treating People Like Jesus

McDonalds really seems to be at the crossroads of American life. Rich and poor gather under the golden arches for cheap food that is quick and tasty. Their slogan could just as easily be, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to eat cheap.” I’ve seen business suits and birthday suits at McDonalds, it attracts everyone.

English: The official logo.
English: The official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was at a discipling group today at one of our local McDonalds. While I was waiting for the group members to show up, I had someone join me at my table and he proceeded to hand me a couple of napkins and some hand sanitizing wipes. I (without looking up from my book) said thanks and kept reading. He handed out more napkins and wipes to the surrounding tables before returning to sit down next to me. When he noticed that I didn’t use the napkin as a coaster, he felt the need to pick up my cup and do it for me.

That got my attention and I knew this guy was serious about wanting to have some company, so I put my book down and waited for what was next. In our next few minutes together (about 15) here are the topics we covered:

  • Getting an ID from the government
  • Police
  • Colorado
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Kansas
  • Looooosiana
  • New York and New Jersey (he was born in both places)
  • California
  • Missouri
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Texas
  • The DMV
  • And how nice everyone in Colorado.

The two most repeated phrases of our conversation were, “You know?” (I didn’t, which got me in trouble on a number of occasions) and, “It’s just such a pain in the ass.” (I pretended to know).

You can probably tell by now that something wasn’t well with my new acquaintance, and the longer he sat across from me the more potent the smell of alcohol became. He was out of it enough that after my discipling group (an hour and a half long) I saw him again having a conversation with a bird statue a few blocks down (yes conversation, not monologue).

He even drew me a picture.

Towards the end of our time together he began to berate and yell at another customer as he was leaving McDonald’s because the guy at my table was convinced that he was the governor of Colorado and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to have a conversation with him.

Since the moment we first began to talk I had a nudge to engage his guy and talk to him. I kept hearing in my mind, “Treat this guy like Jesus.” Which of course meant that I would need to act like Jesus.

How do you extend grace, fellowship and company to someone that drunk, disoriented and out of it all together? I had Matthew 25 running through my head:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

I knew that this is a guy loved and created in the image of God. I needed to treat him as such, but thinking about it and doing it are two different things. Given his current state it was going to be even harder. Here are some things I thought about that I think are helpful. I, in no way, think I was perfect and don’t think I’ve covered everything well. I’ve got room to grow and hope that God continues to shape me so I do better next time. Here are three things I think we need to practice better.

  1. Talk to them. There were several people that either blew off his presence or mocked him. A couple of tables snickered and pointed fingers as he talked. Engaging him and talking to him validates his humanity. Even in an inebriated state he needs to be treated humanely.
  2. Offer help. When he was talking about going to the DMV, he showed me the address he needed to go. I offered to help him find it. Though I was met with an angry outburst (because he knew the way), the point is that we should offer to go the extra step. Spend voluntary time with him.
  3. Offer to pray. This is an opportunity I’m ashamed to say that I missed. Part of it was because I barely got a word it, but most of it was because I wasn’t assertive enough. I could have offered to pray with him and his struggle to get to the DMV.

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Please comment below and add to the list. What other suggestions do you have?

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