On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 3 of 5ish

love your neighbor“Regardless of their record or character, all human beings have an irreducible glory and significance to them, because God loves them.” Timothy Keller

“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” C. S. Lewis

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

In Parts 1 and 2 we’ve been looking at our call to neighborliness and just how far one has to go to respond to it. Who do I have to love and how? It seems to me that some of us are confused about this. We’re pretty good about loving our families, not God-awful with the way we treat the people in our own churches, somewhat shoddier with those in other churches, and then less than that with those who live in the square mile around our homes. But when it comes to those from “bad neighborhoods” or emaciated people from other countries it seems to be in vogue to be, let’s just say, woefully inhospitable, if not outright inhumane.

Speaking of “hospitality,” you might be interested to know that the Greek term used in the New Testament actually means, “love of strangers.” Hospitality is more than entertaining our friends and colleagues on special occasions at a scrumptious repast. It has more to do with how we treat people who are strangers if not strange people.

You’re no doubt familiar with the parable Jesus gave in answer to the man who asked him who was this hypothetical “neighbor” he was supposed to love Luke 10:25-29. If I could boil down the message of the so-called “Good Samaritan Parable” to two main issues:

  • How we should love? (Answer: By helping people in any way we can).
  • Who we should love? (Answer: Anyone who’s in need).

Being neighborly is helping our neighbors however we can and wherever they come from, without requiring suitable zip codes, tax returns, or ethnic pedigrees.

The good news is that at least the guy to whom the parable was given knew he should love his neighbors. The bad news is that he wanted to know how many of those neighbors he had to love. “Which ones do I have to love? Who exactly are these people called “neighbors”? I don’t want to have to be neighborly toward any more people than necessary. I hope you’re not asking me to love people outside my neighborhood – ‘cuz that’s just not gonna happen!”

Most loop-hole-seeking legalists want to know precisely what God requires so they won’t have to do any more than is absolutely expected of them. They don’t want to have to give one penny or paltry minute more than is requisite. Pleasing God and inheriting eternal life is hard enough without having to do extra credit. If our teacher assigned us to read 400 pages and write 5000 words about it, you can bet that I wouldn’t read 401 pages or write one more word than I had to!

It’s human nature to do as little as possible and hope to come in under the wire. This guy figured that the fewer people he had to love the easier. The wider the swath of humans he was responsible to love, the worse it would make him look when he failed.

“Toward whom am I responsible to be neighborly? With whom do I have to be hospitable, toward whom am I required to be civil, and with whom do you expect me to be generous?” Pretty silly when you look at it that way, yes?

Let me just say it again – everybody is our neighbor! There isn’t anyone on the planet that we’re not connected with; if in no other way than as fellow human beings. We’re linked, and God doesn’t think in terms of boundaries, called neighborhoods, that separate us. We’re the ones who erect such borders based on color, language, socioeconomics, ideologies, and geopolitics. These man-made partitions for which God has no regard are at the root of much of the oppression, suspicion, hate, and wars in our world. If the love of money is the root of many kinds of evil, the rest of the root is made of bigotry.

For a brief dramatization of theme of hospitality you might want to see “Don’t come to my house!”

More on the parable next time…

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