I was reminded about how connected we all are when I was in the grocery store the other day. From a distance, I recognized a woman who I’ve met twice during the Floris Guest House, our church’s week of hosting homeless guests. I smiled as I remembered meeting her and felt grateful that we’d been able to help her for at least two winters. I smiled at the thought of seeing her in the grocery store just as I would a neighbor. In the next instant, I also felt hopeful that she was heading to a warm place to sleep that night. She and her shopping mate were gone so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to say hello, nor to see if they had transportation. I offered a silent prayer in the moment, but her face stayed in my mind all week.
A few days earlier, there was another incident as I was driving home from church that stuck in my mind. I happened past an area frequented by day laborers in search of work. The fact that they gather there is sometimes controversial, and in today’s turbulent social and political climate, I couldn’t help but wonder about their safety. Whether you agree with what they are doing or not, one thing is true: they are there in search of work. The concern nagged at me so much that I brought it to my small group the next night and asked if others might join me in praying for them.
The third reminder I experienced was even more disturbing. I was leaving a shopping center and noticed two cars pulling in at high speed as I waited to exit at the traffic light. A very tall, muscular man leapt out of the first car and strode purposefully toward the second car. The man in the second car rolled down his window and started yelling at the first man. Soon, heated words were exchanged by both men. Friends, minus the aggressive posture, both men looked as though they could just as likely be driving a car pool or exiting our church parking lot. What could have happened moments before to spark such reactions? The first man nearly reached through the window toward the second man. Then the light changed and other cars started to honk impatiently. The first man got back into his car and drove off.
As I drove away, I found myself thinking about so many things. This was a small neighborhood shopping center, so it is likely that both men live nearby. What responsibility do we all have for creating the kind of world that we want to live in? In other words, would anyone have stepped out from behind his or her own steering wheel to intervene if the altercation had continued? I’ll admit that it happened so fast, and was so surprising to me, that I felt a little helpless. It wasn’t until I saw that there were young children in the back seats of both cars that I felt a sadness and determination to dial 911 if necessary.
All three of these brief events really got me thinking about the concept of community and what it means to be neighbors. The primary definition of the word “neighbor” is a person who lives near another. A secondary meaning of the word is “a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans.” So, who is our neighbor? How intentional are we about treating others like our neighbor?
Each of these events inspired me to hop onto BibleGateway.com to see how many times the word “neighbor” comes up in the Bible. Answer: 203. It is the secondary meaning of the word that seems most fitting when I read this passage from Deuteronomy 15:7: “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”
I think there are perhaps as many ways to define a need as there are ways to define a neighbor. Our neighbors may need resources or a job. They may need a sense of community and connection. They may need the assurance that Jesus loves them unconditionally. I have a feeling that all three of these events, and others to come, will keep challenging me to think about the concept of need, community and neighbor in new ways. What about you?