Thursday, September 16, 2010

Which Neighbors?

by Niki Turner

Quick... who are your neighbors?

It's one of the very first lessons taught in social studies, and it's a frequent theme on children's programming.
It's also one of the lessons we seem to be very quick to forget as Christians. We spend most of our time safely ensconced in our cozy churches with those who think and believe as we do. We're generally surrounded by our tidy suburban neighbors in our well-designed communities. And we remain immune to the homeless man with the "will work for food" sign at the intersection by keeping our eyes fixed on the light, our windows up, and the music on.
We're pretty darn choosy about who we designate as "neighbors." But what should our according-to-the-Bible definition of a neighbor be? I decided to look in Vine's Expository Dictionary for a Biblical, New Testament definition. After all, how am I going to keep the second most important commandment given by Jesus, "love your neighbor as yourself" if I don't even know what He meant by neighbor? 

The first word is geiton. It means "one living in the same land."
The second word used is perioikos, defined "dwelling around."
And finally, the third word: plesion. "The (one) near."

That's all pretty straightforward, right?
I thought so... until I kept reading. 
This and Nos. 1 and 2 have a wider range of meaning than that of the Eng. word "neighbor." There were no farmhouses scattered over the agricultural areas of Palestine; the populations, gathered in villages, went to and fro to their toil. Hence domestic life was touched at every point by a wide circle of neighborhood. The terms for neighbor were therefore of a very comprehensive scope.
(from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

This comprehensive term is seen most clearly in the story of the good Samaritan. Have you read it lately?
The Good Samaritan by Van Gogh
One day an expert on Moses' laws came to test Jesus' orthodoxy by asking him this question: Teacher, what does a man need to do to live forever in heaven?"
Jesus replied, "What does Moses' law say about it?"

"It says," he replied, "that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself."
 "Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you shall live!"
The man wanted to justify (his lack of love for some kinds of people), so he asked, "Which neighbors?"
 Jesus replied with an illustration: "A Jew going on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, and beat him up and left him lying half dead beside the road.
"By chance a Jewish priest came along; and when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Jewish Temple-assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but then went on.
 "But a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw him, he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his donkey and walked along beside him till they came to an inn, where he nursed him through the night. 
The next day he handed the innkeeper two twenty-dollar bills and told him to take care of the man. 'If his bill runs higher than that,' he said, 'I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.'
 "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the bandits' victim?"
 The man replied, "The one who showed him some pity."
Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same."
(Luke 10:25-37 TLB)

Which neighbors? Did you catch that little comment about the scholar's reason for asking the question? He didn't WANT to love certain people. Maybe he hated his mother-in-law and was hoping family members would be excluded from the definition of neighbor. Maybe he was more prejudiced against the Samaritans than most (the Hebrews despised the Samaritans). Perhaps he was ethnocentric about Israel (since it is God's chosen country and people group). Whatever it was, this dude wanted Jesus to give him an "out," a way to justify his hard heart.

Ouch. I'm stepping all over my own toes. Don't we do the same thing he did? We withhold our pity, our compassion, our mercy and give ourselves holy, righteous reasons to justify our cold hearts. The bum on the corner with the cardboard sign doesn't earn our pity because he's probably an alcoholic. The AIDS victims in Africa doesn't get our sympathy because they probably contracted the disease through prostitution. The immigrants from Mexico trying to escape a country ridden with violence and corruption don't have our compassion because, after all, they've entered illegally!

The word translated "pity" in the Living Bible is the word "compassion." You know all those places in the Gospels where it says Jesus was "moved with compassion," followed immediately by Him healing, or teaching, or ministering to, or delivering someone from something? Same word. It's the feeling you get when something turns you inside out emotionally, when your heart is splattered naked all over your sleeve, when you can't help yourself from responding. It's a word that requires - nay, demands - some sort of physical action, not merely a thought or a casual word!

I've got to work on this. I've got to start seeking ways to love my neighbors with actions that demonstrate my faith in God, and His love for them.

How about you?


  1. Great post! It as provoked a lot of thought within me. I tend to be judgmental when I see really wealthy people. Maybe its part jealousy, I haven't really acknowledged it much ... until now.

  2. Ouch, Niki!

    I can think of a few people who I don't want to see as my neighbor needing aid. Mainly people who I feel they resent or dislike me.

    Isn't that weird? And sad.

    If the person was liberal-fem-nazi-wacko, I'd have no problem stopping and giving compassion.

    But if a person gave me the cold shoulder, or disliked me for something I did (or didn't do), or refused to grant me forgiveness, or whatever, then I'd struggle with stopping and giving compassion.

    Not that I wouldn't.

    I'd merely struggle with not wanting to.

    Kudos, me for being honest.

    Bad form, me for feeling that way.

    Hopefully the first step in changing is acknowleging the wrongful attitude. I hope. Because I don't want to be resentful or withholding of compassion.

    Once again, Niki, I love it how you make us think about being Jesus and not just playing Jesus. :-)

  3. Bex~ That's one I hadn't even thought of! There is a whole flip side we don't think of very often to the neighbor thing, and how easy it is to ignore those who seem to have it all together financially, socially, spiritually, etc. Hmmm. Definitely something to think about.

    Gina~ I'll share my Bible Band-Aids with ya. :-) I'm still rubbing my own wounds. The good thing is having those wounds exposed (by acknowledging the wrong attitudes, like you said) makes us sensitive to the behavior we want to change!

  4. Oh Niki, what a fabulous post. It really hit home. Like Gina, I struggle with being a neighbor to people who I feel have rejected me in some way. That doesn't say very nice things about me, does it?

    I love that you put Sesame Street in this. Thanks so much!

    Hope you're having a good day. Group hug to those of us not going to ACFW...

  5. Me=all thought, no action. I don't think being busy qualifies as an excuse, does it?

    Thanks for the reminder Niki. Now if I could just do it.

  6. Yeah, I'm in the same boat... it's easier said than done.

  7. I just want to scream from the rooftops God is GOOOOD!!!!!

  8. Good dispatch and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you as your information.


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