This week, Pastor John hands over the TAGD keyboard to Brent Whitefield, Northpoint’s Pastor of Missions and Outreach.
Who is My Neighbor?
That is the question posed to Jesus by an expert of the law that elicited the story of the Good Samaritan. The parable itself was essentially Jesus’ definition of the term ‘neighbor.’ Our English translation of the Greek word plesion can be misleading because we tend to think of a neighbor as one who lives in our neighborhood. Plesion suggests a person who is close at hand, a near-person. In the parable, we are meant to condemn the priest and the Levite not only for callously neglecting the wounded victim, but for actively seeking to avoid being neighbors—crossing to the other side of the road so as not to be near-persons to a man in need. By contrast, the Samaritan earns plaudits for coming near the man and thereby proving to be a neighbor. Jesus helps us to understand that being a neighbor has less to do with proximity of address and more to do with a disposition of the heart to be near those in need.
People in our church frequently remind me that while it is good to share with and help people in far-off places like Ethiopia and India, it is important that we reach those in our own community as well. This is, of course, true. However, many people still think of their neighbors in terms of those who share a cul-de-sac. Some express guilt that they have not succeeded in winning the people on their block to Christ. No doubt, in some cases, a little better effort is called for. However, especially in the culture in which we live today, we need to think beyond a geographical definition of neighbor.
God places before us many opportunities to be a neighbor to those in need. Perhaps you only catch a fleeting glimpse of the person next door as the garage door recedes and the car emerges. Maybe most of your attempts to engage with the people on your block seem contrived or artificial. However, for most of us, we have more quality opportunities throughout the week to engage our workmates, or classmates, or hairstylist, or the waiter at our favorite diner. We wring our hands and rack our brains for ways to force a connection with our physical neighbors, while we often miss opportunities to connect with ‘neighbors’ that God places in our path each day. In our fast-paced and transient society, fifteen minutes in a barber’s chair, half an hour in the bleachers at the t-ball game, or three hours in line at the DMV (!) are pure gold.
We are also busy people, with many responsibilities and even church service commitments. So were the Levite and the priest. No doubt hastening to important ministry activities, they saw the man on the road as an unnecessary distraction. The pace of our lives and the complexity of our schedules can make us less attuned to the needs of those around us. Reflect back over just the last week of your life and think: who are the people that God has placed in your way that you passed by on the other side of the road?
Who is my neighbor? Anyone who needs a neighbor.
May God give us as a body, the clarity of vision and suppleness of heart to be neighbors to those He places in our path.