Who is our neighbour?
In preparing for mission planning, here are three important questions to ask:
The first question is: Who are we? This question is about It is about our identity.
The second question is: What does God want us to do? This question is about our purpose.
The third question is: Who is my neighbour? This is a question about our context.
With any Scripture text or with any church activity we can ask these questions and reflecting on these questions may help us to focus on being an alive, living, relevant and authentic church.
In Isaiah 58:3 the people ask of God, "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" The answer from God says, Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Their fasting is selfish, they are doing it for themselves. At the same time they are doing all these religious observances they are exploiting their workers and they fight and are violent. They fast and fight. They pray and fight. What kind of praying is that, that when it finishes people begin to fight? Things haven’t changed that much since those days. How often fights break out in our churches today too.
Their religion is focused on themselves- a me and my God kind of relationship. A religion without any connection to their neighbour. A religion that does not include their neighbour. A religion that does not recognise their neighbour.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:6-8)
In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil the law. In Matthew 22:35-40 A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In Judaism whether back in the time of Jesus or even today this is a very important question that Jewish theologians have wrestled with. For some a neighbour has meant a Jew, for others a neighbour only a good Jew. For some gentiles are not considered as neighbours, for others Muslims and Christians are considered as neighbours as they all claim to descend from Abraham. For others everyone is our neighbour and for others everything is our neighbour: people, animals, every living thing, all creation is our neighbour for we are called to love all creation as we love ourselves. To care for all.
In Luke 10:25-37 - Another expert in the law asked Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” And in response Jesus told a story we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus finished his parable by asking the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” and the lawyer replied, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What about you? Who is your neighbour? Are there people we don’t consider as being our neighbours?
Our neighbours may not be Christians, they may not worship like us, they may have different beliefs to us, but there are lots of things we may have in common. We have common fears. We are worried about our children. We are worried about not being able to afford to rent or buy a house to live in. We are worried about our children and their future. We are worried about climate change and the future of the world and even if we are not worried about it we know our children are really worried about it. We are worried about violence against women, whether we will be safe in our own homes or out in the streets at night. We are worried about employment. We are worried about war. We have so much in common.
When I talk to people from different religious backgrounds and people who do not identify as religious, as I get past their beliefs of being right or trying to prove others wrong I find that they are concerned about living, about making this a better world, a just and fair world, a kind and caring world. When we go beyond the pressures of capitalism and consumerism I find people just want to live in harmony with others. This is where Jesus leads us, out amongst our neighbours, to others, welcoming strangers, beyond all that divides people from people and all that divides people from creation.
I think God is looking for us to be different in this world, to be prophets, visionaries, neighbours. But if we are just seeking things for ourselves we will never be part of how God is in the world and is changing the world. We will never be the light of the world. We will never be the salt of the earth, we will never be neighbours.
Asking these questions is very important. They are all connected. When we ask who am I? We begin to uncover what it is to love myself, to love who I am as I am, and if we can love ourselves as who we are and as we are, maybe we can begin to love our neighbour for who they are and as they are.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation