Love our neighbors? Do we even know them?

A 93 year old man in Michigan froze to death after the electric company put a power-limiting device on his home.  The device was installed due to an overdue balance on the man’s account.  However, the man had plenty of money available to pay the bill and, according to family, had never been late in paying his bills in 50 years.  Read the entire story at the link below:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090128/ap_on_re_us/frozen_indoors

Of course, no one wants to take the blame for this sad ending to a WWII veteran’s life.  Plenty of blame is being pointed at the electric company’s method of handling the situation, including the use of limiters in the first place.  However, I was particularly struck by a statement from the city manager of Bay City where this tragedy took place.  Robert Bellemen said that he was “deeply saddened” by the man’s death and that neighbors have a responsibility to each other.

That is interesting.  This city manager looks at the situation and says that neighbors have a responsibility to each other.  I am reminded of Jesus’ command in Scripture that we are to love our neighbors.  This command is repeated often in Scripture, but one of the key passages is found in the book of Matthew.

Mat 22:34-40 ESV But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. (35) And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. (36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38 ) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
 
So Jesus and this city manager in Bay City, Michigan agree on at least one thing: neighbors have a responsibility to each other.  I wonder, if this 93 year old man was your neighbor, how long would it take before you realized he needed help?  If your current neighbors were in need of assistance would you know?  Do you even know your neighbors names?  Have you ever talked to them? 

We talk a great deal about loving our “neighbors” as Christians.  We realize that Jesus’ words are not to be taken literally; he was not talking about only those who live next to us on our streets.  He was talking about everyone we come into contact with, which includes those who live next to us.  How can we really claim to fulfill what Jesus called the greatest two commands in all of Scripture if we do not even know who our neighbors are?

Yes, we can point the blame at the electric company in a case like this, but we all share in the blame.  We all fail to care for our neighbors as we should.  It is our responsibility.

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5 Responses to Love our neighbors? Do we even know them?

  1. Jeff says:

    I’ve lived in the same house for twenty-two years. I know the neighbors next to me… no one else. I’ve only been in any of the neighbors’ homes a few times. I don’t know most of my neighbors’ names. There are a few reasons: a neighborhood with a lot of transience, language barrier in about 50% of the homes. But probably the biggest reason I don’t know too many of those living around me is that I’m too busy at church.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Jeff:

    I think you hit on an important topic. Do churches keep their people so busy doing good “church” stuff that they are too busy to have an impact in their neighborhoods? Can we truly serve others and share the Good News if we never have the time? I often think that churches would be better off eliminating programs and freeing up their people’s time rather than adding new things.

  3. Robynne says:

    Psh. I’m never even /home/ because I’m at church. I spend little time with my parents. But that’s pretty much intentional… If I wasn’t doing church things, I’d be gone doing something else. But that’s somewhat beside the point.
    Without realizing it, I proved your point while reading the story. When I read “Neighbors need to keep an eye on neighbors,” I thought, “It’s not the neighbor’s responsibility to be checking in!”
    Then I realized what I had just thought.

    I have always considered loving your neighbors to mean love everyone… which, in my head, meant everyone you come into contact with. I don’t come into contact with my neighbors. I always just blame it on the fact that none of my neighbors are my age, but even if they were my age and I were older, I probably wouldn’t talk to them. I have only known my neighbors because they were my parent’s friends, I went to school with them, or I watch their kids (which was as a result of them being my parent’s friends, so I guess that’s not a separate reason.) If I hadn’t been introduced to them, I wouldn’t know them. I am not the type to go meet new people, and, as a result, I probably won’t know my neighbors unless they introduce themselves. I guess I should change that…

  4. Ben A says:

    We live in a society where our neighbors are meaningless. We have a few circles and tiers of friends and we have family.

    I think we need to reach out. My wife and I often consider having a little dinner party, but we never have. To be honest, we don’t really like 1/2 of our neighbors. (I’m a bad person)

    The old lady across the way could die and be dead for a week and we’d never know. In the recent ice storm, she never came out of her apartment and I thought she might be dead. But she was probably okay. And she was! But what if she wasn’t?

    Good points, Tim.

  5. cornbeltliberaldotcom says:

    Interesting exchange here. One of the main reasons I have opted out of organized religion is because the way religion tends to separate us from our natural, geographical neighbors and instead puts us in a manufactured spiritual community. Of course, it’s often much easier to love the “neighbor” who is like-minded enough to choose the same congregation we’ve chosen than it is to love the neighbor who just happens to live next door. I appreciate knowing that those of you who are church goers at least recognize this problem.

    Best Wishes,
    Julia King

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