Pastor's Blog

White picket fence with yard in background

Who Is My Neighbor?

In light of the upcoming election, the “threat” of alien hordes at our borders and the continuing political, racial and religious divisiveness and violence in our country, it seems like a good time to revisit our mission statement.

Here’s the full version: “Central Congregational Church of La Mesa exists to be a diverse, inter-generational church that worships, fellowships and serves together in the name of Jesus for the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors near and far."

The short version is, “For the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors near and far.”

The shorter version is simply, “For the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors.”

 Working for “the Glory of God and the Good of our Neighbors” go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. We can’t glorify God if we don’t love our neighbors, and when we sacrificially love our neighbors, we consequently glorify God. Speaking more specifically of brotherly love, the Apostle John says it this way.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."  1 John 4:20–21 (ESV)

And Jesus said this about glorifying God.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  Matthew 5:14–16 (ESV)

But then there is that sticky word, neighbor. Who is my neighbor and who gets to define neighbor and neighborliness? Well, as most of us know, Jesus did not leave us in the dark as to the answers to these questions, and he didn’t leave the answers up to our human, often self-serving, fear based judgment.

In the tenth chapter of his gospel, Luke describes a well known interaction with a religious leader of his day on how one gains eternal life. Jesus counters the Pharisee’s attempt to trap him and justify himself by unequivocally affirming that the heart of the Law and Prophets - the keeping of which is the key to Life - is summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. The Pharisee in this passage immediately tries to get Jesus to narrow the definition of neighbor with his question, “Who is my neighbor”? In essence, this religious leader is asking Jesus, “Who do I not have to love”?

So, “Who is my neighbor”? To whom are you and I responsible to love as we love ourselves?

Jesus’ answer to this question is one of the most famous passages in the all of Scripture. But, instead of answering the Pharisee’s question with an easily definable list of who’s in and who’s out, Jesus tells a story about someone who demonstrated what seems to us as exceptional neighborliness to a stranger in obvious need. And the punchline of the story is that man who is a neighbor to the injured and robbed stranger is a Samaritan! Samaritans were hated by the Jews who considered them half-breed idolaters - a threat to Jewish national security and religious purity. It was shocking and blasphemous that Jesus, rather than answering the Pharisee’s question directly, “Who is my neighbor”?, would instead define neighborliness - love of neighbor - as sacrificial action, even toward a stranger, using a Samaritan as the hero of the story.

It seems to me that if we were to allow ourselves to prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ words in this story, told in Luke 10:25-37, in light of current events and our own attitudes toward the stranger, the alien, our concern for personal safety and national security and our anxiety about corrupted social mores, we might be as shocked and scandalized as Jesus’ original audience. Maybe that’s exactly what we need.

What would happen to our community and national discourse if we considered everyone around us as our neighbor - even the stranger and those with whom we deeply disagree? What if we took Jesus at his word, who also commanded us to love not only our neighbors, but even our enemies, (Matthew 5:44)? What if the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor”?, was, everyone I encounter, especially those in need?

Your brother and neighbor,

Pastor Scott