“Who is my neighbor?”
What a loaded question that is. There are many ways one could answer that question, but Jesus answered it with a story. A man was on a journey when he was set upon by bandits, who took all he had, beat him, and left him for dead on the side of the road. Three men came long and saw the broken and bloody victim. Two, on seeing him, passed by on the other side of the street. The third stopped and helped the man.
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked.
“The one who showed him mercy,” answered the man who had asked the loaded question.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus replied. (Luke 10:25-37)
Here we see a prime example of what it means to be the kind of person Jesus expects us to be. It is not ignoring the needs of those around us; it is seeing the need, and taking it upon ourselves to help. My neighbor is the one that needs my help.
Still, we ask that question: Who is my neighbor? I would say that we spend more time debating who my neighbor is, whether they actually need help, or what kind of help to give them than we do actually helping. We find all kinds of excuses not to help our neighbor.
The other day I had a discussion with a lady at church about the pervading divisiveness of our society. Everyone is against everyone else, it seems. “It used not to be that way,” this person bemoaned. “How did it happen?”
I think we’ve forgotten how to be neighbors. As our technology has developed, particularly our communication and transportation technology, we have become less dependent on our neighbors. There was a time when if you needed help, you turned to the person living beside you, because you had no other option. Even if you disagreed over many things, neighbors still helped one another, because there was no one else.
Now, though, we have gotten away from that. We have isolated ourselves from our neighbors, and insulated ourselves against the problems of others. The further we are from our neighbors, the less we see their need. The less we see their need, the easier it is to convince ourselves that there is no need.
This is especially the case when it comes to our global neighbors, and our non-human neighbors.
In an earlier video, I mentioned that a recent article I saw listed earthworms as the keystone species on planet earth. Their life in the soil makes possible life for so many other species, us included. Yet how mindful are we of earthworms? How much consideration do we give to the earthworms when we are dumping things out on the ground, or changing the landscape with bulldozers and concrete?
What if we saw earthworms as our neighbor? How, then, would we fulfill the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself?”
Perhaps thinking of earthworms as neighbors is too much of a stretch for you. But surely you can see other humans around the world as your neighbors, can’t you?
I live in North Carolina. It is a long way from Syria, a country that has been embroiled in civil war and uprisings for years now. This war is fueled by a refugee crisis, as people are leaving their homes in once fertile areas that are now uninhabitable. These places have been rendered uninhabitable by human caused climate change. All that carbon we keep dumping into the air is already leading to countless deaths.
Are these people my neighbor? If so, how can I love them?
What about children in India who are sent into landfills to reclaim metal from discarded computers, tablets and smart phones? These children endanger their lives every day and breath in toxic fumes. Are these children my neighbor? How can I love them?
Maybe Flint, Michigan is a little easier for you to relate to. Don’t forget that the people of Flint, Michigan have been dealing with poisonous lead in their drinking water for years now. A child who is exposed to lead like that will suffer from slowed growth and development, brain and nerve damage, hearing and speech problems, and more. Are these my neighbors? How can I love them?
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples I could share with you of our neighbors, human and non-human alike, whose lives are anything but abundant thanks to our continued abuse of creation. The headlines in the news this morning before I sat down to write included stories of wildfires and floods of unprecedented proportions. Last week I heard someone say that we here in North Carolina are due another major hurricane this Fall. Historically, we are not, but looking at the last fifteen years, we are.
Creation is groaning. And who is most affected by these “natural” disasters? The poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow, the single parent household, the no parent household, the very ones that scriptures tells us over and over again to serve and protect.
Are they my neighbors? How can I love them?
Sometimes you hear of insurance policies not covering various “acts of God,” by which they mean storms and other types of natural disaster.
I don’t think those really qualify as acts of God, especially seeing as how our abuse is a root cause in their growing frequency and intensity.
I think that Christians are the act of God.
I think God placed us here, in creation, to act on God’s behalf.
To love on God’s behalf.
To serve and protect on God’s behalf.
To get our hands dirty in tending to God’s creation, and at the end of the day to step back and say, “It is good.”