Daily Slice: Who Is My Neighbor

05/8/07

Who is My Neighbor?

Betsy Childs

Jesus told us to love our neighbors. Just about anyone could tell you this, even if they knew little else about him. This is a straightforward command, but defining who exactly one’s neighbor is has become complicated.

Because of the internet and global news coverage, we have twenty-four hour access to people all over the planet. We are now aware of the evils and injustice not only in our own communities, but also in Darfur, Iraq, Indonesia, and everywhere else. With the world as our backyard, our neighbors have become people of every tribe and tongue, and many of them suffer heavy oppression. On balance, I view this awareness of the larger world as a good thing. Awareness may move us to action, and the work of justice and mercy is exactly what the people of God are meant to do.

I see, however, a couple of dangers attendant to our twenty-four hour access to the world. The first is the danger of being so overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems that we do nothing. Since we cannot solve all the problems, we may not try to solve any of them.

The other great danger is that we will become so involved in the global community that we will isolate ourselves from those that are our neighbors by virtue of their proximity. Charles Dickens warned of this danger through the character Mrs. Jellyby in his magnificent novel Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby’s life is consumed by concern for the problems of Africa, but she woefully neglects her own family, so much so that her children are dirty and constantly having accidents because they lack supervision. Dickens uses Mrs. Jellyby to indict those who use the evils of the world to evade their responsibilities at home.

I am less concerned that anyone reading this will neglect their children than I am that we will substitute virtual community for real community. Trading emails and reading blogs may simulate some aspects of community, but the truth of the matter is, if you tire of your virtual neighbors, escape is a simple click away. When you live with people, you cannot shut them off when you are feeling selfish, tired, or tempted. Face-to-face relationships expose our sin and sanctify us in ways that internet relationships cannot. Listening to podcasts or watching church on TV is not a substitute for being an active member of the Body of Christ.

Many people in America do not actually know any of their neighbors. We value privacy and we are so busy that (paradoxically) we’d have to go out of our way engage those closest to us. It is easy to dismiss the people living in your neighborhood or your building because you don’t know them. But Jesus didn’t teach that you have to know someone for him to be your neighbor.

The question, “Who is my neighbor?” prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. The man who was beaten and bruised was the Samaritan’s neighbor simply by virtue of the fact that they came in contact with each other.

In our shrinking world we now have neighbors on the other side of the world. We have a responsibility to love those neighbors. But we must guard against passing by those who are literally in our path, whose needs have a claim on us, and who we, in spite of our pretensions to self-sufficiency, need just as deeply.

Betsy Childs is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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~ by thoughtcrime2 on May 8, 2007.

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