Who Is My Neighbor?
By Iris Richard
I was reading the familiar story of the Good Samaritan from a well-illustrated cartoon Bible to a group of eight- to nine-year-old Sunday school students. It ended with the question Jesus asked those who were listening, “Who of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in the hand of robbers?” “The one who had mercy on him,” came the answer. Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.”1
One of the boys with a head full of red hair and a freckled face asked, “How do I find a neighbor that needs my help?”
This question got me thinking! True, it isn’t every day that we come across a beaten person lying on the street, if ever, or not often that we witness someone being robbed or mistreated, and my physical neighbor rarely ever needs something from me that I know of, especially when living in a large apartment complex like we do.
Exploring the thought further, I pictured one of my routine days, which went something like this:
Half an hour of early morning reflection and prayer, followed by some exercise and a quick breakfast. Getting out the door on time to beat the rush-hour traffic is often a scramble. Even if I am on time for appointments, most everyone in our African city isn’t, often leaving me running late for my next appointment, which forces me to join the circle of latecomers. In turn it leaves me disgruntled, with little compassion to stop and place a coin in the hand of that bedraggled elderly beggar woman at the street corner or the man in the wheelchair with stumps instead of legs sitting by the road with his hand outstretched.
Were those my neighbors? I wondered. I had rushed by.
Was he my neighbor? I had moved from one event to the next with little time to answer an SMS from a disillusioned friend who needed a few minutes. A listening ear might have meant the world to him.
Hmm, could he have been a neighbor? I’d glanced over an e-mail from an old acquaintance who explained how his life had lately taken a downward turn and that he needed someone to talk to. This has to wait until later, I’d decided, as I turned to pressing business e-mails, each urgently queued in line, waiting to be answered. Would it really have taken that long to jot him a couple of encouraging words, which might have turned his day around?
When I’d reached my car in the parking lot later that day, the guy parked next to me was frantically trying to get his car started, but to no avail. It seemed that his battery was low and that he was in need of a jumper cable. Yikes, that had to be coming from some Good Samaritan, but not me. My jumper cable was deeply buried in the trunk of my car, under some supplies which I needed to deliver to one of our projects on my way home. Surely he isn’t my neighbor, I had thought as I jumped behind the wheel with a sorry look. In any case, I was on my way to an aid project and was running late.
After reflecting on this day, I realized that each day brings along a neighbor or two, and how easy it is to just brush them aside and go on with “important” business. I also contemplated the many times I had benefited from a friendly Good Samaritan who had spontaneously decided that I was a neighbor, and reached out with a helping hand when I found myself in a tight spot.
During the next morning’s reflection time, I recalled that I often tend to pay more attention to the bigger, showier neighborly deeds. Being a missionary and regularly being faced with plenty of needy folks, it seemed a habit to focus on the larger and more gratifying projects. So I decided to pay more attention to the little deeds of kindness and the small niceties I could extend to the neighbors who most probably would come across the path of future busy days.
It wasn’t long before I was tested on this decision when a friend called, asking if I could babysit her toddler for an hour while she went for an emergency dental appointment. I had planned to take that Saturday off and relax, but remembering my resolution, I said yes, trusting that I could spare an hour and still have enough time left for relaxation afterward. I also dropped a note to my sad acquaintance and pressed a coin into the hand of the old lady at the corner. Thankfully, nobody needed my jumper cable that day.
There were other neighbors throughout the coming weeks, and there will always be plenty more in the future. To cope with paying more attention to these little deeds of kindness, I found it important to pray about which ones are truly mine to attend to. Automatically brushing a disruptive needy neighbor off my list was surely much easier, but after all, little is much if God is in it! Even a smile can go a long way, as well as lending a helping hand, a coin spared, a bag carried, an encouraging SMS sent, a meal shared, a moment of undivided attention given, or that overdue phone call made.
It is surprising to see the countless little ways and deeds that can be adapted to improve the world around us, besides the big important ones, if we pay attention and remember the Good Samaritan and ask God regularly, “Who is my neighbor?”
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…” “Lord, when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’”—Matthew 25:35–402
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