It’s 8am on a Saturday morning and my industrious neighbour is on the power tools. Again. Like he was the previous Saturday and the one before that. I bury my head under the pillow and try not to think evil thoughts about him and his hedge trimmer.
I’m a Christian. I know Jesus has called me to be a good neighbour. But is putting up with irritations of suburban life really what Jesus had in mind?
Luke 10:25-37 is the story Jesus told when a lawyer approached him. The lawyer knew that God called him to love his neighbour as himself.
‘But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”’
And this is where it gets real—for the lawyer and for me. Because the parable that followed means putting up with a neighbour’s weekend landscaping is a long way short of the level of love Jesus talks about.
The Good Samaritan
The Samaritan in Jesus’ story took a risk. Ritual cleanliness laws for Jews in the first century meant that touching a dead body would render a person unable to attend the temple. The ‘baddies’ in Jesus’ story—the Levite and Priest—both had temple duties. It was entirely justifiable for them to ignore the half-dead, naked stranger lying on the road. After all, people were relying on them to do their jobs. How would this have hit the lawyer who wanted to justify himself?
Contrast this with the actions of the Samaritan. He saw the injured man, offered compassion, he attended to his immediate needs and then looked to see what more he could do. He didn’t seek to do the minimum, but the maximum. He didn’t find reasons why it wasn’t up to him to act—he just showed up and loved despite the cost. And he did all this for someone who wasn’t like him, and could never repay him.
This is the kind of love Jesus is talking about—undiscriminating, sacrificial love that doesn’t seek a reason to look away.
It’s worth remembering that this story came from the one who literally died out of love for us. Jesus could have come down off that cross whenever he wanted to, but he gave himself up out of love for us. We can’t be surprised that his definition of love involves sacrifice and seeking to serve those who can never repay us.
Love In Action
There are Christian churches in Lebanon who understand this better than me. They’re living it.
In overcrowded camps on the Syrian-Lebanese border, displaced people come in waves, seeking a home away from the war in Syria, or somewhere affordable to live in an economic environment that makes it difficult to survive. It’s so cold that families are surviving winters by burning anything they can find.
And the local Christians have responded. They are making and distributing blankets, patching holes in tents and half-built houses, bringing heaters and fuel, and making sure there are warm clothes for everyone. During a snowstorm which tore down tent roofs, it was these Christian neighbours who rebuilt shelters while the snow was still falling.
Sophie, who works for our local Christian Partner in Lebanon, told me that the local people were astonished to see Christians helping their Muslim neighbours.
‘Here, it is expected that people will help people from their own culture,’ she said. ‘But never an outsider’.
This is extravagant love that goes beyond what is expected. This is generosity unimpeded by the thought that it’s ‘not my job’. This is loving thy neighbour as the Samaritan did.
Jesus said, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Where have you set the bar for loving your neighbour? Does it need a little adjusting like mine does?
We’re not living in Lebanon, and we can’t visit refugees and give them a blanket. But we can seek to live out this attitude of love and sacrifice. If you give to our Good Neighbour Appeal, your donation will go to help vulnerable people around the world, supporting the work of local Partners like these Lebanese churches. But there are things we can do closer to home, too. What can you do for people doing it tough on the streets this winter? Are there local food distribution charities who could use a volunteer? Ask God to prompt you towards loving others the way he does.
As for my noisy neighbour, perhaps it’s time I offered to help him with his hedges.