You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19: 18

 

Neighbors can be wonderful. They can also be challenging or even terrible to be around. They can also be people who we barely know at all. Like other people who we come into some form of close contact with during our days, we enter into the lives of neighbors with a wide range of levels of involvement and relationship. The individualistic and self-contained nature of our world has pushed us farther into our own space and away from those around us, too. We don’t need to form the sorts of alliances and mutual care arrangements that people in the days of Moses found necessary for protection, supply, and basic care. Now, we can just go on-line to find what we need, and we hire someone when we want protection from a marauding wild beast. So, following God’s directive regarding neighbors could be life altering for us today.

 

God sees the role of neighbor as something far more elevated and important than just convenience or than a practical necessity. The Lord seems to view neighbors as people who are owed special attention, care, and concern. They are people who we are to reach out to and to embrace with a form of deep love that is gracious and long-lasting. The only way for most of us to do this is to actually get to know our neighbors. This requires us to leave our houses, knock on doors, and share life with others. Getting to know our neighbors makes us leave the safety of our own world and the people who we have developed long-standing relationships with and enter into the uncertainty of less well-known ground and uncertain relationships. This is the sort of thing that Christ did continually, and it is the sort of thing that takes us into places where our relationship with Christ can be demonstrated and shared in a natural, life-on-life manner.

 

The relational standard that is stated here and that Jesus firmly restates later is a very high one. It goes well beyond toleration or that of nodding acquaintance. God wants us to truly love our neighbors and to do so with the same intent and engagement that we do love ourselves. This requires us to be concerned and to reach out to them. It also leads us to tender grace when we might naturally think in terms of offense against us, and it demands that we seek to accept differences as a part of the other person’s God-given nature and as an essential aspect of that person’s story of life. Jesus cared for and about everyone that He encountered. In very real and tangible ways He lived as if He viewed everyone as His neighbor. I don’t think that it is too great a stretch of the concept to say that Christ desires for His followers to do the same with the people who surround us in the world where we live.