Exactly who our “neighbor” is has been discussed for hundreds, even thousands of
years by followers of many different religions. For most of us today, a neighbor is
a person who lives adjacent to us in a nearby house, apartment, acreage, farm and
so on. If we were to act with consideration, empathy and care with these people
using this understanding of neighbor (and they towards us!), life would indeed be
better. However, I think that neighbor is both more immediate and much broader than this.
Our first, immediate, “neighbors”, I would say, are our family members, the people who take care of us from before our birth and through our formative years. We are becoming increasingly aware of how critically important these early experiences are, requiring a balance between providing safety and allowing us to face life’s challenges. How we are treated in our families may or may not show us how completely we are loved and may hurt or hinder how we act in the rest of our lives.
In a broader sense, today’s communication technology can quickly put us in virtual contact with anyone anywhere in the world. We profoundly understand them to also be our neighbors. Further, scientific disciplines like ecology reveal to us how deeply we are connected with the natural world. So we are “neighbors” not only of people, but also of the world itself. The idea that we are a part of creation and not separate from it is reflected in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
“Neighbor,” I believe, is a wide-ranging relationship. This relationship includes all people, but also including the natural world. However, caring for the good of all our neighbors begins “at home,” with ourselves, with the people, plants, creatures and things directly around us and radiates out from there. When we commit ourselves to being aware of how we live—what we think, say and do in all our relationships—then we will be living life to the full and at the same time properly reflecting God.
Next week – Some concluding reflections - Rev. Dirk Jessen