“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2).

If you grew up in the golden age of television, you will remember Lucy and Ricky. The Ricardo’s ‘I Love Lucy’ neighbors were the Mertzes, the friendly ever-present landlords who became so close to the couple that they served as godparents to Little Ricky when he was born. Chances are if you know this series, you will also recall the Mitchells and their rambunctious son Dennis (‘The Menace’) who frequently caused havoc for the Wilsons who lived next door. Another slightly less visible Wilson lived adjacent to the Taylor family in the 1990’s ‘Home Improvement’ series. The mostly unseen neighbor peered over the fence and frequently became the go-to guy for solving the Taylors’ problems with his engaging conversation. Over the years, the concept of neighbors played has been an important theme. As Mr. Rogers entered the house, he put on his sneakers and cardigan sweater while he sang “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” to many generations of children, making us all feel that neighboring was the right thing to do.

These days, we often don’t know or want to know our neighbors. If we are lucky enough to have a yard, a good fence often keeps us from stating the obvious: “unless we extend an invitation – you stay on your side and we’ll remain on ours.” In his poem, Mending Wall, Robert Frost writes of two neighbor farmers who join hands in the Spring to rebuild the stone wall between their properties. The one neighbor, who serves as the poem’s narrator, contemplates the need for the wall since there are no animals to be restrained by its created barrier. At one point he questions why it was even put there in the first place. He says, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know…what I was walling in or walling out.” But his neighbor hangs on to his father’s words of wisdom which simply stated were, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Jesus was once asked what was His most important instruction. His reply was, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). There are days when the first of these is much easier to fulfill than the other. I have lived in the same house for several decades, and during that period the ownership of the house next door has turned over many times. The current occupants were once described by another neighbor as “a little rough around the edges.” Even though that description sums up their conduct fairly well, I have always tried to be kind and respectful – you know, neighborly. A few months ago, I responded to the doorbell to see one of them standing there. They wanted to make me aware they would be going away for a few days and just asked that I keep an eye on their house. It reaffirmed who we need to be. The Apostle Paul said: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan because He was prompted by the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Merely put, He responded that our neighbor could be anyone who needs us. A good neighborhood watch program might say it is those who live on our block or in our apartment building. The Reverend Bobby Schuller once phrased it this way: “Don’t discredit what you have to give to a hurting world. Be aware of the needs of the people in the fifteen feet of space around you. They are there. Have listening ears and meet the needs of people who are hurting. And we’re all hurting. Be the kind of person that is always available to shine the light.” You will find that if you practice this technique, the better neighbor you will become and the more blessings you will receive. So even though they may be a little rough around the edges – “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:1-2). While building that fence might be a wise idea, we don’t want to build it so high that we miss the cry of one who may need us.

REFLECTION: Who do you define as your neighbor? Are you attentive to the needs of those around you? How might adopting and extending the ‘fifteen feet rule’ improve your vision of ministry to those whom you may not envision to be your neighbor?


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