Thin Line

A Neighbor could be a Friend or an Enemy

Ed, my old neighbor from Saskatchewan, had a question for me in our last chat on the phone. The question was, “In your city of over 90,000 people, don’t you have countless strangers around you rather than neighbors?” He had decided that with us living in a condo, we would never even see others unless we met them in the hallways or lobby by chance.

Having lived in Melville, or near it, all his life, Ed, felt that most people he sees on the streets are his neighbors. To Ed, a neighbor is someone you have seen before, someone that you know of, or have heard of before. Sometimes he knows others because they are curlers, bowlers, golfers, hockey or baseball fans, volunteer firefighters, etc. To Ed, the larger the place you live in, the less you know the people around you. My old neighbor does not believe that he knows everyone in Melville, Saskatchewan, but he sure has a sense of who belongs there and who is a stranger.

I mentioned to Ed that maybe there has always been a great debate about who is our neighbor and how we should treat our neighbors. The dictionary defines a neighbor as a person living near or next door. In a wider sense, it means any fellow human being that we can see and is close enough to interact with if we choose to do so. Some say that you can be a good neighbor only if you have good neighbors. Some have questioned the teachings of the Bible that tell us to love our neighbor and to love our enemy when they are the same person. Robert Frost cautioned that good fences make good neighbors. There are endless stories of neighbors who were too close for comfort when they were partying or fighting. Some have questioned if it is wrong to pray that a neighbor would move away as soon as possible.

In the Bible, the law is very clear when it says, “To love your neighbor as yourself.” A lawyer asked Jesus. “Who is my neighbor?” In his answer, Jesus told a parable about a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers. They beat him and left him half-dead. Both a priest and a Levite, Jewish religious leaders, came along one after the other and saw the beaten man by the side of the road. They passed him by without helping him.

There may have been concern that it was a trick so that in stopping to help the injured man, they might themselves be attacked by robbers. If the man died as they were helping him, they would become ritually unclean and would need a time of purification themselves. We do not know why they did not help the injured man. Thankfully, a Samaritan came along and helped the wounded man, taking him to an inn and leaving money for his care while the man recovered.

Jesus showed that the Samaritan, a hated neighbor of the Jews, extended mercy to the beaten stranger in need. The lawyer admitted that the Samaritan acted as a neighbor to the half-dead man. Jesus told the lawyer to go and do likewise.

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Raymond Maher
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