By Bill Behr

What is a neighbor?  Mr. Webster (the dictionary) says a neighbor is someone who lives (or is located) near another.  The definition of a neighbor as “someone living near me” makes sense.  But is someone “located near me” really my neighbor?  What does “located near me” mean?   Does that mean anyone I meet each day?  Is that everyone in my neighborhood?  Does that mean the distressed neighborhood, near me, that I drive past every day – are its residents my neighbors, too?

Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 teaches who our neighbors are and how we should treat them.  A man is mugged, robbed and nearly beaten to death.  On separate occasions, a priest and a Levite (a holy man) pass by the dying man, but walk on the other side of the road to avoid him.  A Samaritan (in today’s terms a Samaritan would be anyone we look down on – think through your mind and fill in the blank of your Samaritan) took pity on him, used his own meager resources to take care of him, then asked another (neighbor) to assist him in helping the man in his recovery.   Great story!

Jesus showed us that when we are confronted with someone (our neighbor) in need, love should compel us to enter his or her suffering.  If we are brave enough to assist our neighbors out of love and compassion when we see their need, it might surprise us to learn that our neighbors have something to give back to us as well.

My dad worked in a prison ministry/retreat weekend called Kairos.  He would go into a prison with a team of men and spend all weekend there in small groups with inmates, talking about and listening to their problems.  And through this process, Christ transformed lives.

One of the men God put in Dad’s life was Bob.  Convicted of second-degree murder, Bob was at the end of his rope and felt unworthy of anyone’s love and forgiveness.  Bob listened to Dad’s message about a man (a man who was also God – Jesus) who loved each of us so much, that He died and rose again, so that if we believe in Him, we may all be washed clean of our sins (even murder) and have eternal life together.  All the men on the team showed loving community, grace, forgiveness and acceptance to these inmates, and lives were transformed – including Bob’s.

Dad and Bob kept in touch by writing back and forth after Kairos.  It was not long before Bob got to know my Dad well, and asked if he could write to me, my two sisters, and my younger brother.   I was only 15 years old at the time.  Dad asked us kids if it would be OK to get letters from Bob.  We all said, “OK.”  It was the first time I communicated with someone who committed murder, and realized that Bob was just a guy who made a very bad mistake.  Bob became Dad’s neighbor, and then he became a neighbor and eventual friend to the rest of my family.  The relationship taught us that everyone is made in God’s image and has great value, even inmates.   Dad gave love to Bob, and Bob gave back love to Dad and my family.  We accepted the beautiful reality that God put us together as neighbors.

So, back to the question: Why don’t your neighbors know you?

Don’t miss the opportunity God gives you to meet your neighbor.   You are in need (think about it).  God calls us to be the one who yields first to our neighbor in need.   Love sees each other’s dignity and serves each other’s needs.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.