Bring Back Neighborliness

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

What if the answer to the challenges that face us in this polarizing time in our history is really very simple?  The old-fashioned value of neighborliness–noticing the need of another and meeting it–provides us with a path forward.

Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the term “Good Samaritan”, generally referring to a person who helps a stranger in need. In Luke 10, a lawyer has a conversation with Jesus about how he might inherit eternal life. He knows he must follow the Jewish law – love your neighbor as yourself – and so he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?

Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a man, probably Jewish, is attacked, robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, both highly respected in Jewish culture, pass the man by, ignoring his need. Then a Samaritan, a person belonging to a group that the Jewish people of the time would have despised, takes pity on the man and treats him kindly. The Samaritan wraps his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays the innkeeper to continue caring for him.

When Jesus asks which of these three – the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan –  acted as a neighbor to the robbed man, the lawyer answered “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus’ reply?  “Go and do likewise.

Showing mercy is the heart of neighborliness.  It can be inconvenient, because noticing the need and meeting it requires time and attention.  But it may be our greatest hope.  

“Many recognize that the climb back to a better-functioning society will be a long one – and that it starts with acts of kindness and cooperation at the individual level. In short, Americans seem to know that the path to rebuilding begins with them.”  Pew Study: Americans’ Rx for Nation Starts With Neighborliness by Michael Dimock & Lee Rainie

As we think about how we might practice the art of neighborliness, here are some suggestions for getting started:

  1. Take time to listen and understand the life experiences that led to the different perspectives held by your neighbors. Ask questions.
  • How do you feel about…?
  • What in your life caused you to come to that perspective?

Empathy is powerful–understanding the challenges faced by our neighbors can be uniquely helpful as we look for ways to connect and to understand, even when we don’t agree.

  1. Anticipate the need by getting to know your neighbors–the ones who live in your actual neighborhood.

It’s hard to be a good neighbor when we don’t know each other very well.  In The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, a story is told about a friend who had a house in his neighborhood in bad repair.  The garage door was falling off the hinges and dead cars sat out front among the weeds.  The friend called code-enforcement and the homeowner was fined.  

Only later did he learn that the woman who lived in the house lived alone and her mother had cancer. She stopped working to care for her mother and had been at her bedside 24/7 for months.  You can imagine his regret and shame once the whole story became clear.  

We can’t serve each other if we don’t know our neighbor’s needs.  

  1. Cultivate our whole community.

We are called to love and serve our neighbors out of a heart full of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us.   How might we take the gifts, skills, and resources we have and use them to strengthen our whole community?  Take inventory of what you have that might change the world for someone else:

  • Time to help a single mom with her kids
  • Space to welcome a student or a family in need of housing
  • Knowledge to mentor a young entrepreneur
  • Capacity to volunteer delivering meals or taking seniors to medical appointments

As we think about the challenges of our current culture, our call is to find ways to make a tangible, positive difference in the life of our neighbors by listening to their perspectives, understanding their need, and using our resources to help if it is within our power to do so.  Through each small act of kindness, we will obey Jesus’ clear call to “go and do likewise” to a watching world.