It’s a question most famously asked of Jesus, who launched into the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. A person with no understanding of or exposure to Scripture still knows what it means to be a good Samaritan. But that’s not what I was asking.
We got new neighbors, at least we thought we did. We were sure the old neighbors moved out. We weren’t sure that the new neighbors moved in. Doug had met the new neighbor the day she did the walkthrough prior to settlement. There was an instant connection because of her reason for buying the house–a place that would work for both her and her elderly mom. It was the same reason we bought ours. Cookie-cutter houses with cookie-cutter purposes.
So, I baked some cookies to welcome them to the neighborhood, but I really thought they hadn’t moved in yet. So, the cookies sat on the counter, mysteriously dwindling as a few days went by. Finally, Doug saw her again. They had moved in. He told me Sherry was walking the dog when he saw her. A dog? There’s a dog? I haven’t seen a dog.
I went next door with my petite plate of cookies (after all, there’s just two of them, they don’t need a lot). No answer, but the dog barked. It’s a Lab; I like this family already. I left the cookies on the porch rocker and checked on them a little later on – gone. Huh. I had included a note with the cookies, welcoming them and giving them our phone numbers in case they needed anything.
A few hours later, I saw a voicemail message. It was Sherry, thanking me for the cookies and the phone numbers. She hoped to meet me soon. Does my neighbor really exist? She is very mysterious. Then it happened. We were out in our yard with the dogs, and Sherry and her dog walked by. She stopped and introduced herself. The three Labs met. We chatted for a while, and she continued her walk. Nice lady, sweet dog.
I realized that when Doug had described her to me, he never mentioned that she is black. It probably never occurred to him. That sort of thing doesn’t. He’s more likely to describe someone by their occupation or the car they drive–the doctor behind us, the Penn State guy across the alley, the guy with the blue Camaro a few doors down, but never their color. Unless their color isn’t good, like “he looks a little grey to me.”
I would describe them as the guy with the Golden Retriever, the couple with the Greyhounds, the family with the Chihuahuas. And we both describe one neighbor as “the spy” cause we’re pretty sure he is. Very suspicious. They are varying shades of white, tan, and black, but that doesn’t shed any light on who they are (not like the car they drive or the dog they own).
The important thing about our neighbors is that we love them. That may mean baking them cookies, helping them with a project, loaning them stuff, or just talking with them and sharing our lives with them, being a neighbor. We show them love regardless of their skin color, their occupation, or even if they own Chihuahuas, although it’s hard not to look down the on them just a little for the Chihuahuas.
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Which do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “the one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You, go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36,37 ESV) As the Apostle Paul put it, as Christians, “there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11 ESV) In today’s language, race, color, or culture makes no difference. We are one in Christ, brothers and sisters.
One of the things I love about our new neighborhood is what I thought I would hate about it – there are so many people, neighbors just steps away. There is also a lot of diversity, an unexpected bonus. As we meet more and more neighbors, we get a glimpse into other cultures and have the opportunity to practice the culture of Christianity–that of loving our neighbors.