Every adult knows the value of neighbors. Good ones make life better; bad ones create constant stress.

Jesus said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but he wasn’t talking about neighbors in the same way we do. He, in fact, said pretty much the opposite.

A guy asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responded by telling the story of the Good Samaritan and asking which of the three men in the story – a priest, a Levite or a Samaritan – proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

The questioning man responded, “The one who showed mercy to the injured man.”

Jewish men of that time would not have called a Samaritan a neighbor, but Jesus did because the Samaritan showed mercy and cared for the robbing victim’s needs.

“Go and do the same,” Jesus said (Luke 10:25-37).

From Jesus’ perspective, a neighbor is anyone who helps someone in need – who shows mercy.

In other words, it’s not the person next door; it’s anyone.

It’s as if Jesus anticipated our globally connected world in which we become aware of hurting people not just along the roads we travel but through the communications we share.

And, like the Samaritan, we shouldn’t care if they are like us or not. National citizenship doesn’t matter. Race doesn’t matter. Religion doesn’t matter. Gender identity doesn’t matter. And on and on.

If we see anyone in need and we can help, we should help.

Now, if you’ve ever had a good neighbor in the normal way we use the word – someone living next door – then you know the value of good neighbors.

I have a neighbor named Larry. He has longish silver hair and a beard to match. After three years of living across the street from each other, Larry is a real friend.

Larry shows genuine care for my wife, Trese, and me, but Larry treats everyone this way.

I’ve seen him trimming trees for a single mom, and everyone in the subdivision seems to know him.

Jesus said to love our neighbors. When you love a neighbor, you share life. You’re not just friendly; you’re engaged in life.

Most churchgoers are pretty friendly with the people they encounter, and they generally feel concern for those who suffer.

But true Jesus followers are more than friendly and concerned; they are engaged – intentionally seeking to meet spiritual and physical needs of those they encounter and those in need.

To love our neighbors, as Jesus said to do, is to be willing to give and sacrifice for their well-being – to be there for them.

Larry is among my favorite people in the world. My life is different for knowing him. But Larry is not a Christian; he’s not really anything when it comes to religion, though Buddhism has some appeal for him.

The other day I was telling Larry more about what I do at work and how Micah 6:8 is the Bible verse that guides our work: “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Larry responded with something like, “I love that. Have you heard that Tim McGraw song, ‘Humble and Kind’? It’s great. You’ll love it.”

I now know it, because of Larry, and he was right; I love it.

Here’s the deal. Larry is originally from San Antonio; I’m from Dallas. Larry loves rocks; I love books. Larry mows his yard with an old-timey rotary mower; I hire a yard service. Larry has no religion to speak of; I work at religious stuff all the time. But none of that matters in being a good neighbor.

Larry has never said it as such, but he loves me even though we are different in many ways.

Larry “gets” Jesus in a way that many churchgoers do not; he loves anyone he encounters. He’s following Jesus’ example and teaching.

If Jesus walked up to Larry on the street and told him to love his neighbor, Larry wouldn’t ask, “Who is my neighbor?” He probably would respond, “Cool. That’s what I’m doing.”

Jesus might continue to talk to Larry about what is meant by “neighbor” and tell him about the importance of loving God and following him (Jesus), but I think Jesus would know he had something special in Larry – here is someone who already gets the basics about loving others even if he doesn’t have all of the religious answers.

A version of this article first appeared on the BGCT’s blog. It is used with permission.

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