It often behooves me how it is possible for us to live our lives not caring for those in need. And I am not talking about our friends or family. It is easy to be friends with those who love us and can reciprocate. But what about those who we don't know and can't reciprocate? Are we to befriend them and care for them? I believe so. Jesus said:
"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" - Matthew 5:46-47 (ESV, emphasis mine)As you can see the standard for Jesus' followers is quite high.
On another occasion Jesus is interrogated by an interpreter of the Law (lawyer) and he wants to know how to obtain eternal life. Jesus tells him to obey all the commands of God. He narrows them to two: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The lawyer attempts to trap Jesus and asks him who is his neighbor. It appears to be an obvious question with an obvious answer. But Jesus answers by telling him a story of a man who is robbed, beaten and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (both of them involved in temple worship) pass the man by. I am sure they both had "good" excuses. A third man comes by, a Samaritan, a half-breed hated by the Jews. He is moved with compassion, gives him basic care and takes him to an inn to recuperate. He takes care of him for a full day. The Samaritan even pays ahead for his care as he leaves until he comes back again. Likely, the Samaritan was going to make sure this person would be well before leaving him. Jesus asks, the lawyer who does he think proved to be a neighbor and he answers correctly. "And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise"."
It is clear from this that our neighbor is not someone we know or even met. It is a stranger in need that is befriended and cared for. The word hospitality in the Bible means to care for strangers. In Middle Eastern culture it was customary and even expected to be hospitable to strangers, even enemies (see Genesis 18). I am sure that by the time of Jesus, things had changed a bit. The religious leaders with their "new" interpretations of God's Law had modified it quite a bit (see Matthew 5:21-48)
Our neighbor from across the street passed away early morning after been in the hospital for over two weeks.. She was a widow who lived a very lonely life. Her only brother died not too long ago, and she had no immediate family except her adult son. She spoke very little English and didn't know how to drive. Up to a year and a half ago she was walking with my wife around the neighborhood. My wife did as much as she could for her, doing her groceries, taking her to doctor appointments, cutting her toe nails, giving her food, etc. She also came to some events at our home. It is sad because living in a place surrounded by people, no one befriended her until we moved in the area. She even suffered from panic attacks perhaps due to the fact she was alone all day long.
Our other two neighbors who lived next to us were also elderly (God seems to put them in our path and we love them. Read here.), were also lonely and had no one to care for them. We did as much as we could. Simple things like turning their mattress over or fixing their remote control were things they needed help with or just someone to say hi and ask how they were doing. I remember when Joe's brother came to visit him and died of a heart attack in his living room. The paramedics and ambulance came and yet no one came out except us. Sad. I remember Joe, a Veteran who battled Alzheimer's, crying, hitting his head because he couldn't remember things and calling himself stupid. I remember the small conversations we had in our front yard. I don't remember anyone befriending them.
I run almost every day and get to see who are my neighbors. They see me as well as I am pushing my three-year old on the stroller and my nine-year old running ahead of me. This is a way I getting to know my neighbors. Some say hi to me, some don't. Some think it's cute (some may think it's crazy) that I run with my children. The important thing is that I am aware of who my neighbors are and that I am ready to show neighborly love: saying hi, a simple wave, or a simple smile is a start. I appreciate when they do it to me. These are my neighbors. Which are yours?
God puts people in our path, but sometimes we just go ahead and ignore them in our busy lives. This Christmas let's be mindful of everyone not just our friends. There are many Carmen's and Joe's out there who need a friend.
Here are a few more verses from the Bible to reminds us of caring for those in need:
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27 (ESV)
"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Romans 12:15 (ESV)