Who is our neighbor?
Jesus was asked this question during his ministry by someone wanting to justify the good works that they did in the world and to feel like they had done enough to help out. I think in our society today the concept of neighbor is becoming harder and harder to understand.
A drive through the older parts of Brainerd and the newer parts of Baxter highlight how our concept of neighbor is changing. Gone are the days of narrow side lots and closely built houses. Instead, we look for more space, more separation. I currently live in a partially built development and because of that technically have no neighbors, since the lots surrounding my house are currently empty.
While on the one hand we are creating more space and separation physically, the Internet and cell phones help to create a greater sense of connection at the same time. Through social networking sites I am able to read about the joys and struggles of people I know and care about all around the U.S. and even the globe. I have neighbors near and far away that I care for and keep up with.
When Jesus talked about neighbors, though, he did not mean the people who literally live next to us, nor the people we like, but the people everywhere who are connected to us. Sometimes I worry we forget about those sorts of neighbors. If we live in isolation in our homes, we do see the community we are a part of.
While I love the Internet and how it keeps me connected to other people, I increasingly see how it creates separation as well. People write/tweet/post/e-mail things online that they would never say to a person face to face. They do so, I believe, not because we are a bad society, but because of the distance. We forget that we are talking to a person, talking to a neighbor.
To answer the question of who our neighbor is, Jesus tells a story. In the story two individuals walk past an injured man and continue on their way. The third person, a foreigner, stops to care for him. The first two did not see the man as a person; they saw him as an object to be avoided.
Blood and death were both considered ritually unclean. They did not see the person, they saw the blood, the potentially dead bodied and avoided those things to protect themselves. They failed to see the person who was in need.
The morale of the story to me is that we have neighbors all around uspeople who need our help, people who are ready to help us. The challenge for us today is to look around and see people as people. Not see the world in an us/them mentality, but see each of us as part of a larger community.
We do not have to like each other all the time, nor do we have to agree on everything, but we do need to remember, we are all connected, we are all a part of something greater, we are all neighbors.
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