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What does it mean to be a good neighbor?

Unsplash/Derick McKinney
Unsplash/Derick McKinney

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30).

A teacher of the law asked Jesus how to get eternal life. The two then picked up a healthy discussion on the most important things in life and God’s law:

Love God. Love your neighbor.

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It was going great until the law teacher asked Jesus the wrong question…

And who is my neighbor?

How do we know it was the wrong question? Simply because Jesus never answered wrong questions! Instead, he would fire a question back, thereby checking the heart motivation of the questioner.

Jesus did that here, but first he told a story. We call it the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In his story, Jesus contrasted a Samaritan’s compassionate action in rescuing a wounded Jew with the self-righteous inaction of some religious leaders. This was to teach the teacher what it means to be a neighbor in context of gaining eternal life.

Through Jesus’ masterful correction, we discover it wasn’t a question of who is my neighbor, like, who do I have to love, but as Jesus asked him back, “Which one was a neighbor?” The law teacher answered correctly: “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.”

I hope you have a testimony of going and doing the same — that is, showing mercy to the one in need. One of my opportunities came just a couple weeks ago.

Let me preface by saying that we have incredible neighbors.

Late one night, our faithful neighbor Bobby discovered our elderly neighbor Agatha wandering outside, calling in vain for her dog Ceci. Bobby’s ever-resourceful wife, Debra, plus always-faithful neighbors Jack and Audrey joined in the search which led to the sad discovery of the dog’s body floating in the lake.

Agatha’s dear Ceci had drowned.

Owing to my wife’s godliness and merciful nature, the late-night ad hoc neighbor committee nominated her to give Agatha the bad news of the loss of her only in-home companion. I joined my wife at Agatha’s side and asked if she wanted to see Ceci one last time. She gave a strong no to that! She wanted to remember her friend as she last saw her, bounding in the tall grass of her backyard.

I then had to ask her what she wanted to be done with the remains. I felt more like a funeral director than a neighbor! Agatha couldn’t stand the thought of burying Ceci on her property. And so, sometime after midnight, I hauled the water-logged body to the 24-hour animal urgent care for cremation.

Agatha was distraught and heartbroken, but also very grateful for her neighbors who came to her aid at such a difficult moment. We felt we had done very little and wished we could do more, but Agatha expressed her gratitude in a lovely card she mailed a few days later. In shaky script, she wrote:

“The Lord says, 'Love your neighbor.' How easy with friends like you. I will NEVER forget your kindness.”

God had given us the privilege of being a neighbor. Let me be honest, I initially wanted to “pass by on the other side” like a good religious leader, rather than be inconvenienced by a late-night search for a dog. But God graced me to overcome the flesh and be available to Him and our neighbor in need, following the example of our incredible neighbors.

And so, the question for you and me is not who is my neighbor, but am I being a neighbor?

Not, who do I have to love, but am I loving?

Ask yourself this: Am I a neighbor like the merciful Samaritan of Jesus’ story, even more, like Jesus, the ultimate rescuer? He’s the One who found you left for dead, beaten up by your own sin, discouraged by the reality that religion, while well-intended, doesn’t save.

Only Jesus saves, and that by His sacrificial, substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for your sin — my sin — on the cross, followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead and mighty ascension to the Father.

This is the One who says to be a neighbor, like Him.

Now, the only way to be like Jesus is to have Him living in you, loving others through you. This can happen and increase in your life. And should you ever find yourself wondering, like the teacher of the law, how to gain eternal life, you can always talk with a pastor, a chaplain, or better, a neighbor who follows Jesus.

Hopefully, you won’t find us being like the self-righteous of Jesus’ story who avoided the one in need. Hopefully, you’ll find us more like the one who showed mercy.

We’ll care for you — like a good neighbor.

“So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:34).

As a Chaplain on the Christian Care Ministry/Medi-Share Spiritual Development team, Bill Adams helps to strengthen employees in their faith through rich Biblical teaching and compassionate care. Bill is also known as a bridge-builder within the Jewish community and an advocate for Israel among the church. He and his wife, Lizzie, have 7 grown children and soon-to-be 15 grandchildren.

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