If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner. If its owner does not live nearby or you don’t know who the owner is, take it to your place and keep it until the owner comes looking for it. Then you must return it. Do the same if you find your neighbor’s donkey, clothing, or anything else your neighbor loses. Don’t ignore your responsibility. If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet! [Deuteronomy 22:1-4 (NLT)]
“And who is my neighbor?” asked the religious scholar. Jesus answered with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which he made it clear that one’s neighbors can be strangers. Sometimes, however, our neighbor is really just the guy next door or down the street. I thought of neighbors as we drove through a nearby neighborhood famed for their over-the-top Christmas lights. With all the Santas, elves, snowmen, gaudy lights and music, it was incredibly colorful, tacky and fun, but it had little or nothing to do with Christ or Christmas. It did, however, have a lot to do with neighbors and friendship.
While my neighbors may have dogs or cats, I am quite sure that none of them have oxen, sheep, or donkeys that are likely to wander into my yard or collapse in the middle of the road. The words of Deuteronomy and throughout the Bible, however, make it clear that we are to take an interest in our neighbors. We have several homes and I am embarrassed to admit that I know few of my neighbors in any of their locations. Granted, we are sort of modern-day nomads who move from home to home depending on the season, but that is no excuse for not knowing our neighbors. Perhaps our situation is unique, but I think we are not alone in our isolation.
Many of the houses in our Florida community have beautiful front porches and nearly every one of those porches has a lovely set of wicker chairs sitting on it. In four years, I have never seen anyone sitting in those chairs. There was a time many years ago when, after dinner, people sat on their front porches and chatted with their neighbors. Now, I guess they’re all inside in front of their computers or televisions. For two years, a woman has rented the house next door and I have never even seen her! When out walking, I usually only see landscapers, a few power walkers (who have no time to stop and chat), and the dog lovers waiting for Fido to do his business. Of course, I always greet anyone I meet, but that’s not knowing them. Have we all become so busy with our own interests that we have no interest in anyone else? Have we become so afraid of getting involved that we don’t even want to know our neighbors?
Back to that neighborhood with the holiday decorations. As we drove down its streets, residents were outside, chatting with one another, driving friends around in golf carts, or gathering around fire pits in several yards. Older children were collecting money for the Cancer Society and the little ones were being toted around in wagons and strollers. Neighbors certainly had to talk to and work with one another to erect arches across their roads, place giant angels on the mailboxes, or put candy canes in the yards of everyone on the block. Neighbors had to help one another assemble the elaborate displays. They probably discussed who on the block would play the holiday music and I’m sure several extension cords were shared. The residents had to communicate, cooperate and assist one another. Their neighborhood was not just a group of homes that shared a small park and a zip code; it was a group of neighbors that shared and cared.
My husband and I take the lesson from Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable seriously and are generous and good to our neighbors—or at least the ones we don’t know, the nameless faceless ones who benefit from our charity. Perhaps, however, we should think a little closer to home. After all, it’s said that charity begins at home and charity is just another word for love! Maybe it’s time to introduce ourselves to the woman next door, make an effort to go beyond a quick hello to the lady with the two white poodles, and take time to chat with the man who just moved in down the street. Perhaps that nearby neighborhood, with their extraordinary holiday decorations, had more to do with Christ and Christmas than I realized.
The only way to have a friend is to be one. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]