Who Are Our Neighbors?

By Barbie Fischer

In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells us what the greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This brings to mind the question, who are our neighbors.

Who Are Our Neighbors 2Throughout the New Testament we see that Jesus intends this word ‘neighbor’ to mean any other person, irrespective of race or religion, with whom we live or whom we meet. This is clearly brought out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 and Mark 12:30-33). This commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is reiterated numerous times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9, 10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)

The last two days have brought to mind for me this question of ‘who are our neighbors’, as I watched the news and spoke with friends around the country regarding the two police-involved shootings that happened just this week. These shootings resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both shootings took place not far from some of my friends. These men were quite literally my friends’ neighbors . The police officers who took these men’s lives were also my friends’ neighbors. In the moments leading to the weapons being fired, I dare say Alton and Philando were not viewed as neighbors by those who took their lives, but instead were viewed as threats.

When you answer the question ‘who is your neighbor’, who comes to mind? People from church, friends? What are these people like? How many of them are different from you?

We gravitate towards people who are like us. It is comfortable. Navigating those awkward cultural differences can be very uncomfortable. Yet, when we get to know one another and especially people different from ourselves, oh the new things we learn and the blessings these experiences become! I live up the block from a home for mentally impaired adults. Honestly, at first I found a few of them quiet frightening. There is an older lady who stands and stares even I you try to say hello or smile at her, she will follow you with her eyes just staring with a cold, blank expression. There is an older man who walks his imaginary dog every morning. He is often seen singing and dancing, leaping through the air even. While these people live close to me, I might not have considered them my neighbors at first. In fact, had I seen them before I moved in I might have reconsidered. Yet, I am so thankful I live where I do and I am blessed to call these people my neighbors. Each morning as I leave for work, I look for the man with his imaginary dog. His pure joy brightens my day, especially when I ask about his pooch and he picks up the imaginary dog and holds him to my car window for me to pet. I am thankful that the Spirit led me to get to engage with him. If I hadn’t, I might not get that extra smile from seeing him every morning. Even the lady who stares. I still smile and say good morning as uncomfortable as it makes me feel.

Who Are Our Neighbors 4Lord God, we grieve with our neighbors around the country at the loss of two of our neighbors. Both were created in your image, as all of us are. We ask that you comfort those involved in these shootings. We ask that you guide us in your ways and show us what you desire from us at these times and always. We ask, Lord, that as we go through our days, may our eyes be opened to seeing all those we meet as our neighbors. May we see all people as you see them, Lord. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.