From time to time I receive a postcard boasting the headline, “Choose Your Neighbor!” It’s from a local realtor sending listings of houses for sale in my neighborhood. The idea is for me to tell my circle of friends and acquaintances about the available houses, thus allowing me to choose my neighbor.
Through many years of moving around the country and overseas, my family has been blessed with incredible neighbors. There was one family in particular that we really enjoyed. Our daughters were nearly the same age, and they were in and out of each other’s houses all the time. We also struck up a wonderful friendship with their parents, celebrating the holidays together and cooking out on the weekends.
Having great neighbors is an amazing joy. But most of us don’t really get to choose our neighbors. The fact that we don’t choose our neighbors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be good neighbors. Ignoring our neighbors simply because we didn’t choose them is not a viable option.
Luke 10 contains a story about a good neighbor—the Good Samaritan. When Jesus instructs a lawyer to “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 your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer, wishing to justify himself, asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Did the lawyer really not know who his neighbor was? Did he really want to know if it was OK to be a good neighbor to some and ignore others? Or did he want to know if people who were not like him were the people Jesus was talking about?
In the story, a man was robbed, beaten and left for dead. Jesus taught his followers not to respond like the priest and Levite, who both passed quickly by, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the dying man. It was the Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews, who was filled with compassion and went out of his way to make sure the man was cared for. He even paid for the man’s care at a nearby inn from his own wallet.
Jesus challenged the lawyer’s idea of “neighbor,” including how he or she should be treated. This same parable challenges our modern idea of who our neighbors are and how they should be treated.
Reality is that we don’t always choose who our neighbors are, but we do choose what kind of neighbors we will be.
Perhaps you might honestly say that you would not have chosen the neighbors that you have. In fact, they may even challenge a prejudice or political view you hold. Even so, Jesus’ very clear teaching on how you should treat them holds true.
The Scriptures speak clearly in regard to how we are to treat the foreigner among us. Leviticus 19:34 tells us, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” God loves the foreigners and sojourners, and he provides for them, often through his people. As Christ followers, we can do no less.
The question is simple: “Who is my neighbor?” How you answer determines how you will respond to the current refugee crisis—the new neighbors coming to your city and cities around the world to which God may be calling you.
We must not ignore the refugee in need, such as the religious people did to the man who had been robbed and left for dead. This is a “Samaritan” moment for us. Jesus told the lawyer, “Go and do likewise” We should do the same.
Terry Sharp is the International Mission Board’s state, association and diaspora network leader. This article is adapted from imb.org.