“Who is my neighbor?”
It’s not a new question. The lawyer asked Jesus the same thing in Luke 10:29 so he could know the boundary for neighborliness. Often we ask the question for the same reason — not to see who is included, but to see who we can safely exclude.
Perhaps my neighbor is the one who lives near me. Perhaps my neighbors are the ones who are like me. We can always find a definition for the word that we like. We can continue to live in the ease that we have always known.
Chances are, you know how Jesus responded to the question. He told what might be the best-known story in the Gospels. In short, an unnamed traveler was robbed, beaten and left for dead. Religious leaders passed by and only a Samaritan, despised by most Jews, stopped to help. At the end of the story, Jesus reframed the question — “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man?”
Jesus’ question shifted the answer from geography, ethnicity or common background. The person who needs a neighbor is the person who is my neighbor.
As usual, Jesus turned our understanding upside down. If we wish to “love my neighbor as myself,” we can no longer limit the scope of love to those who “are like me.” If we want to be like Christ, we must define love’s recipients based on those in need of love. Most would agree that all are in need of love. The more that love is needed, the more we are obligated to give it.
Who is it that needs our love most? This may be a hard question to answer. However, we can start by looking at those who are, by the standards of this world, broken, weak and marginalized.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Resources, 14 percent of North Carolinians live with some type of disability. That number could be broken out into statistics — 285,500 people with visual difficulties, 387,700 with hearing difficulties and 530,600 with cognitive disabilities.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 58 children in North Carolina are on the autism spectrum. Additionally, approximately 36,000 people living in North Carolina are Deaf and use American Sign Language for communication.
These men, women and young people living across our communities are in great physical need and often in greater spiritual need. According to the International Mission Board, there are 70 million culturally Deaf people living in the world, and less than 2 percent of those 70 million are Christians.
Your neighbor needs you. Perhaps it is time that we, the church, begin to open our doors to our neighbors who have various needs.
Become a neighbor to those who need love. Be a neighbor to those with disabilities. Heed the message of the parable in Luke 10 and reach out to families with special needs children.
We are in sync with the heart of God when we answer the question like Jesus did — my neighbor is the one who needs me.
It’s time to be a neighbor.
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