Reviving the Neighbor

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In a recent article at Maclean’s Brian Bethune writes about the dwindling health of neighborly relations in Canada and the U.S. Things aren’t looking good for neighborly relations in the Western world.

Between the mid-1990s and 2008, the percentage of Americans who reported eating at least once a month with relatives with whom they didn’t live rose from 52 to 59. Over a longer period (1974 to 2008), the percentage who spent an evening socializing with neighbours tumbled from 44 to 31, while the percentage who never did so rose from 20 to 30. The evolving modern definition of a good neighbour is no longer someone who is part of your life, someone you chat with over the fence, a reliable shoulder in good times and bad, but someone who doesn’t bother you, either in your enjoyment of your home or by threatening its property value.

Statistics show that most people don’t know the names of their neighbors let alone spend any meaningful time with them. This is a significant shift in the general culture and one that has had a large effect on the Christian witness. The number one reason people visit a church remains a personal invitation. How much more effective can that invitation be when it is offered within the context of a strong personal relationship?

Jesus taught that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. In response, one man wanted to justify himself by asking then who is his neighbor. If he can limit the scope of neighborly relations, he can make this radical love thing much easier. Jesus responded to this man’s loaded question with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37 ESV)

In this situation, being a good neighbor meant extending such mercy to a perfect stranger. How would that look for each of us in our neighborhoods and apartment complexes? I believe that should motivate us all the more to introduce ourselves to our neighbor and seek ways in which we can extend love and care for them. We might be surprised just how much our neighbors appreciate having a good neighbor.