My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 31, 2023, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
"Wow, that looks great," I thought as I pulled into the driveway. For the last week, Jason had been building a short retaining wall across the front of our property to create a boundary between our front yard and the street, along with flower beds in front of our house. The stone blocks were replacing old landscape timbers. It was nice to see the project completed.
All the old landscape timbers were stacked in the backyard, and I thought about what to do with them. Could I get anything out of them? Would anyone be interested in buying them? Maybe someone I knew had a use for them, and I would give them away. I would need to do something with them after the holiday weekend.
The weather over the weekend was beautiful, with warm temperatures and sunny skies. It was perfect for driving my 57 Nash Metropolitan convertible. We drove the Metropolitan to Papa's Mexican Café on Sunday, meeting family for lunch. I took photos of my granddaughters in the Metropolitan when we finished eating.
After leaving Papa's and going to Wal-Mart, we headed home. When I pulled into the driveway and got out, I heard someone calling my name. I looked up and saw that it was Tim, my next-door neighbor. He was at the end of the cul-de-sac and asked if I could come to help them. I walked to the end of the street to see what he needed.
When I arrived, I saw that my neighbor, Phil, had gotten his riding lawn mower hung up on some exposed tree roots. At first, Tim and I tried to lift the mower to free it, but it was much too heavy. I thought about the landscape timbers in my backyard. Maybe we could use one of the timbers to pry the mower off the root.
I walked back to my house, chose one of the timbers, and carried it back to where the mower was stuck. Tim and I placed the timber under the mower and heaved on it but could not dislodge it. As we pushed on the timber, it snapped in two. I thought about going to my shop and getting my floor jack, but before I did that, we tried another approach.
Placing one of the timber halves in front of the wheel on the stuck side, we attempted to drive up on the timber, raising the height enough to dislodge the mowing deck. But when we tried, it would kick the timber out instead of driving onto it. I took the second half of the broken timber and, finding a root I could pry against, was able to hold the timber in place, and the mower crawled onto the timber, breaking free.
As we helped Phil back on his mower, I thought about how lucky I was to live in my neighborhood. I have wonderful neighbors who are always willing to help each other. As I was thinking about how blessed I was, I thought about a story in the Bible about neighbors.
"Then an expert on the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to get life forever?" Jesus said, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" The man answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind." Also, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Jesus said to him, "Your answer is right. Do this and you will live." But the man, wanting to show the importance of his question, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:25-29 (NCV)
Who is my neighbor? It seems like an easy question. For me, the answer would be someone who lives on my one-block-long street. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of neighbor is "one living or located near another." But Jesus did not define neighbor this way.
When God commands us to love our neighbor, who is he talking about? God's people have asked this question for thousands of years. For the nation of Israel, the assumption was that the neighbor was a fellow Israelite who shared the same faith practices. They would eat the same foods and live according to the same laws. While the neighbor may disagree on some things, the neighbors' fundamental beliefs and practices would be similar, if not the same.
I thought about my neighbors on my street. They look very similar to me and have beliefs close to mine. That is what a neighbor should be. It is easy to love your neighbor as yourself when they are wonderful people with similar looks and beliefs. But Jesus did not endorse this understanding of loving your neighbors.
When asked, "Who is my neighbor," Jesus told the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story. A priest and a Levite, church leaders, see a fellow church member who has been beaten and left by the side of the road. Both leaders see the man but do not stop to help. In contrast, a non-believer stopped and helped the church member. As a supposed enemy of the church, he was the last person expected to help. But he had great compassion for the person in need and helped him even though it cost him a lot of money.
Who was the neighbor? Was it the church leaders, or was it the non-believer? When Jesus asked this question, "The expert on the law answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Then go and do what he did." Luke 10:37 (NCV) Your neighbor is the person God calls you to love despite your differences of opinion and life choices. According to Jesus, your neighbors are the ones who may be hard for you to love, yet they are the very ones God is calling you to extend mercy to today.
Gentle Reader, we all have neighbors. I hope the neighbors on your street are as wonderful as mine. But Jesus taught that our neighbor is anyone in need of our help. It doesn't matter if they have the same beliefs we do. It isn't easy to show compassion to someone so different from us in opinions and lifestyle. That's because we identify that person as an enemy.
But Jesus shows us that loving your neighbor shows love and compassion without strings attached, even for a perceived enemy. "My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring." 1 John 3:18 (NCV) Let's ask God for help to love our neighbor, to open our eyes to see the people around us and care for their needs.